CHICAGO — There’s a bona fide NFL quarterback inside of Tyson Bagent — it could be seen at times last Thursday — but the clock is ticking on his pro football career, and he needs to get better fast if he’s going to stick in the league beyond this season.
The Chicago Bears pulled out a 16-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football, exerting their will at times in the run game, with Bagent functioning as the offense’s game manager — playing clean football (for the most part) and executing the team’s game plan.
In hindsight, stat watchers who looked at the box score were likely satisfied by what they saw — Bagent went 20/33 for 162 yards through the air while adding a small morsel of 12 yards on the ground alongside playing turnover-free football.
D’Onta Foreman got the lion’s share of carries out of the backfield, toting the rock 21 times for 80 yards and a touchdown, as the Bears ran the ball 37 times for 133 yards, and outpaced the Panthers in time of possession, 33:31 – 26:29.
The results were good enough to get a win, and regardless of the quality of play on the field, all wins should be celebrated in the NFL just because of how hard they are to come by — as fans of Chicago sports surely know.
But when I turned on the film to see football experts review Bagent’s play, I noticed the harm a little bit more than slightly outweighed the good last Thursday.
Before I continue, I’d like to say that what Bagent has accomplished in four starts as an undrafted, DII rookie quarterback in the NFL is nothing short of remarkable. To go from playing in front of 5,000 people in middle-of-no-where West Virginia against the Colorado School of Mines (who actually has an incredibly good DII football team), to stepping in and starting for the Bears against the Las Vegas Raiders and helping get the win, is next to unheard of across the history of the NFL.
When looking back on the 2023 Chicago Bears, Bagent should be remembered fondly for his contributions to help keep this team’s head slightly above water while Justin Fields worked his way back from a dislocated thumb on his throwing hand.
But with all the good Bagent has done, the NFL is still a business centered around the question, “What have you done for me lately?”
What Bagent has done for his career lately is show flashes of productive quarterback play around 30% of the time, while demonstrating poor mechanics, decision making and lack of anticipation the other 70% of the time, and the film from last Thursday shows as much.
The first half against Carolina was rough. Bagent led off the game with an errant pass that should have been picked off, and left two possible touchdown passes on the table — one because of poor footwork, and the other from a missed read.
The first missed touchdown pass came on second-and-seven, down 0-7 after the Ihmir Smith-Marsette punt return touchdown, with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.
Bagent rolled out into space to his right, and DJ Moore was one-on-one with a corner on a double move, streaking downfield. Instead of coming to a pause to set his feet and throw a more accurate ball, he threw on the run, off-balance, and overshot Moore by a step.
The second missed touchdown pass came on second-and-20, down 3-10, with just under 10 minutes to go in the second quarter.
According to former NFL quarterback JT O’Sullivan, Chicago was running a pass concept (that most call dagger) with Tyler Scott in the slot, and Moore in motion across the formation to the right side at the start of the play. Scott ran a deep post to the middle of the field to draw safety help away from Moore, who appeared to be the player the play was drawn up for.
Thing is, Scott beat his man and no safety help came over top of him, so he was wide open, streaking down the middle of the field. Bagent could have hit Scott for a touchdown, or possibly Moore for a 15-20-yard gain, but instead skipped a stone intended for Roschon Johnson, and the game went on.
Something else that was evident of Bagent’s need to improve quickly was Moore’s body language throughout Thursday night.
On top of the two missed touchdown passes from Bagent, there was no one who was more negatively impacted by Bagent’s play Thursday night than Moore, who I’m sure was looking to put up numbers in a revenge game against his former team.
After watching O’Sullivan break down Bagent’s play, Moore could have had as many as six-to-eight more catches, and at least one touchdown, on top of the five catches for 58 yards he already had against the Panthers, had Bagent thrown the ball where it was designed to go, stayed in the pocket, or just plain not missed Moore when he was wide open.
Don’t believe me? Set aside 38 minutes and watch the video linked above. Moore could have easily had 11-13 catches for 125-175 yards and a touchdown at Soldier Field against his old squad.
But even with all that evidence and more pointing toward Bagent not being the answer in Chicago, he still had a handful of flashes Thursday that showed he has the capabilities of being — if nothing else — a quality backup QB in the league for some time.
The play most evident of that came on fourth-and-three with 5:18 remaining in the second quarter.
Down 3-10 and in need of a big play, Bagent calmly worked through his progressions from left-to-right until he settled on his third read — Scott. Bagent kept his base, had solid footwork going through his progressions, and ripped a laser up top to Scott, who elevated and made a great contested catch for the first down in tight coverage.
There were other examples too.
Less than five minutes later, on first-and-ten right before the end of the half, Bagent showed he could throw with anticipation and hit Moore on a speed-out along the right sideline that netted the Bears 14 yards.
With 1:26 to go in the fourth quarter, Chicago was at third-and-seven with the game on the line — essentially, either they converted and iced the rest of the game away in victory formation or came up short and relied on the defense to go out and win the game.
Good news is the defense didn’t have to get one last stop, because Bagent hit Darnell Mooney near the sticks for a first down on the same exact play called for offensive pass interference against Moore earlier in the game.
Similar to the earlier throw on fourth down, Bagent calmly went through his reads, showed a good base, and ripped a throw into a tight window to seal a Bears win.
When it mattered most, Bagent came through. He displayed the poise and moxy that has won him the respect of his coaches and teammates this season, and delivered a win.
Now, the next step for him is to become a more polished product, so that he hits those throws earlier in the game, and someone else takes the kneel down in the fourth quarter after a job well done.
Can Bagent do it? I believe he can, and if he does it remotely well, he’ll be on a NFL roster for years to come. If not though, he’ll fade to black with a nice little niche in Chicago Bears history as the plucky, undrafted DII quarterback that proved — with the right mindset and work ethic — anyone can earn their shot in the National Football League.
This piece is a part of a weekly column that will be published on Tuesdays following each Bears game for the rest of the NFL season. For more on the Bears and other Chicago sports from WGN News, you can follow Eli Ong on X.