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Bennett's fumble costly

Running back at a loss to explain turnover

By Sean Jensen

Knight Ridder Newspapers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- His jersey off, his eye-black smeared and his pants stained with grass and dirt, Michael Bennett sat on a stool in front of his locker at the Meadowlands, his head in his hands. Running backs coach Dean Dalton knelt beside him, trying to lift Bennett's spirits with words of encouragement.

Judging by his comments afterward, Bennett won't let go of his frustration as easily as he did a costly fumble late in the third quarter.

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After picking up a first down with a 6-yard run to the New York Jets' 18-yard line, Bennett lost the ball, and middle linebacker Marvin Jones recovered. Jets linebacker Mo Lewis was credited with the forced fumble, but apparently Bennett simply lost the ball.

"That's just something I take very, very, very personal," Bennett said. "It's just something that leaves a sour taste in my mouth for a whole week, knowing that something like that happened. Being a professional, you want to get over something like that.

"But you pride yourself on going out and playing hard, and you want to help your team win, not go down the tank."

The Vikings were driving to score and hoped to head into the fourth quarter down 17-7. Instead, the Jets maintained their 17-0 lead, then added a field goal before the Vikings finally avoided the shutout with about three minutes left when Moe Williams scored from a yard out.

Bennett didn't return after his fumble, but he and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan insisted Williams would have played most of the fourth quarter as the two-minute drill back.

"He made a mistake," Linehan said of Bennett, "but we all made them somewhere in there."

The timing and rarity of such a mistake irked Bennett.

"I had no fumbles in college. None last year. This year I've got two," said Bennett, who added that he had never fumbled in high school. "That's just something as a running back that really (upsets) you. It's something I really pride myself on, protecting the ball."

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Bennett's first lost fumble occurred in the fourth quarter against Carolina after he caught a pass from quarterback Daunte Culpepper and picked up enough yards for a first down. The Vikings were trying to tie the game after the Panthers had scored, but Bennett lost the ball, and the Panthers scored on the ensuing drive to take a 21-7 lead.

Before his fumble Sunday, Bennett had gained 56 yards on 12 carries. Although his longest run yielded just 13 yards, Bennett consistently gained positive yardage.

The Vikings finished with 101 yards on 23 carries, but the Jets were satisfied with their run defense.

"We went into the game with the mind-set to stop the run," Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "We contained the run for the most part. If you do that against them, you make them one-handed."

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