And we’re back.
The Chicago Bears did last night in primetime what they do best these days: get pummeled by teams with a reasonable amount of talent. The 30-13 final score of their loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night felt somehow as if it didn’t tell the whole story of how Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense thoroughly controlled the game from start to finish.
Herbert, whose mangled left middle finger can’t properly hold a football, completed his first 15 passes against the Bears with relative ease and directed the Chargers to scores on their first five drives of the game. Perhaps when I wrote about the Bears maybe having a chance to stick with the Chargers, I should’ve mentioned this team hasn’t beaten an NFL starting quarterback better than Mac Jones in two years under Matt Eberflus.
But arguably the worst thing about last night’s game was listening to an NBC broadcast crew led by Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth’s cringy, incessant slobbering over Tyson Bagent during his second NFL start.
Now, without Justin Fields on the field, it’s reasonable to think Bagent’s incredible story — from D-II undrafted rookie to starting quarterback in the NFL — would be a prime selling point for why NBC strove to keep this game on the schedule instead of flexing it out. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story, after all?
Bagent came back to earth against the Chargers with a less-than-fairytale performance (25/37, 232 yards, 2 INTs, 62.0 passer rating), which is only a problem if you thought he was on the way to greatness based on last week’s win against the Raiders in his first career start. If you saw his performance as one befitting a guy who could be a solid backup in the league for a while, you’re not remotely bothered. He did more or less as expected: some good stuff that moved the ball and ran the offense, along with a few turnover-worthy plays showcasing his physical limits.
You wouldn’t know it if you heard the broadcast, though.
But the odd “this guy Bagent has something” or comments about his confidence and poise belying his experience weren’t the galling parts. It was the continued insistence that the Bears want Fields to actively study how his understudy plays the game that took the cake.
No, really: on multiple occasions, Collinsworth intimated the Bears have been so impressed with the way Bagent runs the offense that they want uber-talented Fields — he who holds the ball too long and takes too many sacks — to take notes from the scrappy, cerebral rookie.
On the surface, why not? Bagent’s greatest strength — getting the ball out of his hands quickly and not creating negative plays due to sacks, even if it means a quick release right into a defensive back’s hands (whether he catches it or not) — is Fields’ biggest weakness as a pro. There are a good number of analytics that show Fields is improving as a passer this year — when he actually throws the football. So…maybe he should do that more, right?
But even if you can admit that, the idea that the Bears fed these suggestions to NBC — where else would the broadcast get it from? — is heinous on a couple of levels.
Cris Collinsworth praising Tyson Bagent for doing something the Bears wish Justin Fields would "figure out." Then he promptly throws a bad interception. pic.twitter.com/Dl5vbnKy5g— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) October 30, 2023
First, it’s borderline disrespectful of a guy who was the only reason your team has been relevant even a fraction of the time the last two seasons and even managed historic stats in 2022 despite a concerted effort to throw him off a cliff and see if he could fly with a tanking roster.
Secondly, it tells you the flaw in how the Bears perceive themselves — and Fields — right now.
When you effectively hear “the Bears want Fields to play more like Bagent,” you’re hearing the suggestion that Fields is the problem with this offense — that he would be good if he just molded himself to the Bears’ scheme and did what he was told.
If he could just play like Bagent from the pocket, they wouldn’t have to do all of these quarterback runs and downfield shots when all the Bears want to do is run the ball, play check-down and win with defense — now THAT’S a laugh.
This implicitly means the Bears would rather have that than the guy who threw for eight touchdowns and more than 600 yards in two games just a few weeks ago. As if that wasn’t already apparent by the way the Bears immediately threw out the blueprint of what worked for them against the Denver Broncos and Washington Commanders and asked Fields to play like Andy Dalton against the blitz-happy Minnesota Vikings. Because that’s always worked for him.
If you think the Chargers would rather face a Tyson Bagent-style offense or one geared toward Fields’ big-play strengths, here’s a postgame nugget from former Bear Khalil Mack: “I know [Bagent]’s going to be a special player, but I’m glad No. 1 wasn’t out there tonight.”
Khalil Mack on Bears QB Tyson Bagent: "You could tell the clock in his head was running today. He was getting the ball out pretty quick. He did some good things for them down the stretch. I know he's going to be a special player, but I'm glad No. 1 wasn't out there tonight."— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) October 30, 2023
That’s the problem, though: the Bears seemingly don’t want No. 1 out there either. Because if they did, their offensive plan for the last two years would’ve been designed to use Fields’ downfield accuracy and generational talents as a runner to the fullest rather than ask him to play like Dalton or Aaron Rodgers, who had been in the league 15 years before Bears offense coordinator Luke Getsy was lucky enough to learn from him.
Instead, this coaching staff would apparently rather point the finger at Fields than face the truth: their inability to develop the most talented quarterback prospect they’ve ever had — one they actively chose not to trade last offseason, by the way — has all but ended their tenure with the Bears. On top of that, they’ve proven their schemes and philosophies on either side of the ball aren’t worth keeping around when the next highly drafted rookie quarterback comes to town.
Matt Eberflus and his crew are dead men walking, and they’d best dust off their resumes and study some job interviews here soon.
Their only hope, ironically, is that Fields plays so unbelievably well upon his return that the Bears sneak into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth somehow. But that would require the coaches to swallow their pride once again and completely reshape the offense in Fields’ image, and we already know they’d rather smirk as Bagent throws an average of three yards down the field per attempt than do that.
It’s unfortunate Bagent got caught in the middle of this ridiculous position of essentially being asked to prove the coaching staff right. He couldn’t because, well, he’s an undrafted rookie making his second NFL start, and that’s not a fair thing to ask. Just as it’s not fair to ask Fields to be something he’s not when his best play is stratospheres above what Bagent can do.
Fortunately, we only have nine more games of this to go before we can turn the page to something (hopefully) better.