1st-and-10: Does Tyson Bagent 1.0 have an expansion slot?

Chicago
By Chicago 10 Min Read

Tyson Bagent’s first NFL start was efficient, safe, error-free and a success — everything but inspiring. It was a masterpiece in crayon.

Maybe that’s the way the Bears and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy wanted it — a productive, winning performance that didn’t make you think Bagent might be a better option than Justin Fields. 

The undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University was dink-and-dunk at its best — completing 21 of 29 passes for 162 yards (5.6 yards per attempt), one touchdown and no interceptions (or fumbles) with one sack for a 97.2 passer rating. His longest pass play was 17 yards on a throwback screen pass to running back D’Onta Foreman. 

It got the job done, but it was a bit underwhelming. The intrigue of Tyson Bagent was that he could be the Bears’ version of Brock Purdy, not their next Chase Daniel. Getsy’s conservative game plan was like hiring a 12-year-old to babysit with explicit instructions to not touch anything, rather than the 16-year-old who would probably show your kids a better time, but also might get distracted talking to her boyfriend on the phone and start a kitchen fire. 

Getsy was the smart parent Sunday, and the Bears’ house was still standing when he got home. But while Bagent’s performance answered some questions, it elicited others: Is that all he is? Is there room for Bagent to open things up? Do the Bears trust their offense line to give him the chance to do that? Is there more to Bagent than what we saw Sunday?

“Oh, yeah. No question,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “He’s a rhythm and timing passer and he’s got the ability to do all those things.” 

We’ll see about that. Kyle Orton dink-and-dunked his way to a 10-5 record as a rookie in 2005, so anything’s possible with a good defense. But Bagent seems capable of much more. 

That sets up an intriguing scenario for Bagent against the Chargers on Sunday. The Chargers’ pass defense is one of the worst in the NFL, a punching bag for teams that think big. The Chargers are allowing 8.8 yards per pass attempt this season — highest in the NFL. They’re allowing 310 passing yards per game — highest in the NFL. They’ve allowed 20 plays of 25 yards or more and seven plays of 45 or more — most in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have a 105.6 passer rating against the Chargers — second highest in the NFL. 

But there’s one catch — there always is. The one time an opponent tried the big-play tack against the Chargers with a rookie quarterback, it was a total flop. The Raiders’ Aidan O’Connell — making his first NFL start — was sacked seven times (six times by former Bear Khalil Mack), averaged 6.1 yards per attempt and had a 67.1 passer rating in a 24-17 loss in Week 4 at SoFi Stadium.

The quarterbacks who have burned the Chargers’ vulnerable defense are mostly veterans — Patrick Mahomes (101 NFL starts, 129.5 rating), Ryan Tannehill (154 starts, 123.3), Dak Prescott (109 starts, 109.3), Kirk Cousins (148 starts, 97.7) and Tua Tagovailoa (41 starts, 110.0). 

Matching that production will be a challenge for Bagent in his second NFL start. But it’s more of a challenge for Getsy, who might have to find a tricky happy medium to give his quarterback the best chance to win. 

2. Upon film review, Fields probably would have made bigger plays where Bagent did not, but also taken sacks were Bagent did not. Though Bagent was more of a game manager than an “it” factor quarterback Sunday, his performance still moved the Bears closer to a likely conclusion: If you could combine Bagent’s moxie, decision-making and ability to “play quarterback” with Fields’ athletic ability and arm strength, the Bears would have their franchise quarterback.

3. Though the Bears rushed for 177 yards on 36 carries against the 21st ranked run defense in the NFL, you probably shouldn’t hold a parade for an offense line when the quarterback averages 5.6 yards per attempt. With quick throws and check-downs, Tyson Bagent was his own best pass blocker Sunday. 

4. Teven Jenkins might be just as good at his job as cornerback Jaylon Johnson is at his. But Jenkins’ injury issues have put him in a much different bargaining position. 

Jenkins has been outstanding since returning from a calf injury against the Commanders on Oct. 5. He has allowed no sacks and two pressures in 174 snaps at left and right guard. He’s only played in 22 of 41 games and played every snap in just eight of them. But when he’s healthy, he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

“I just try to put myself in a position to help the team and wherever they want me to be, I’ll do it,” Jenkins said. “I like having a job. So I mean, whatever I can do to keep my job and hopefully I do it great enough to get a second contract.”

5. Khalil Mack had six sacks against the Raiders in Week 4. But this won’t be a revenge game for him. The Bears not only made Mack the highest paid defensive player in the NFL when they signed him to a six-year, $141 million contract ($90 million guaranteed) in 2018, but Ryan Poles went out of his way to trade Mack to a contender when he began the rebuilding process last year. 

Mack has 15 sacks in 23 games with the Chargers. He had 36 sacks in 55 games with the Bears from 2018-21.

6. Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL. The bottom five teams in ESPN’s power rankings last week went 4-0 in Week 7 — with the 1-5 Broncos, Patriots, Bears and Giants winning. The top five teams went 1-2 against teams outside the top five — with the No. 1 49ers losing to the No. 25 Vikings and the No. 5 Lions losing to the No. 9 Ravens.

7. It’s difficult to referee the Jaylon Johnson contract situation without knowing the particulars of the negotiations. But, as was the case with linebacker Roquan Smith, overpaying for a player of Johnson’s caliber is less of a risk because his floor is so high. Johnson has only three career interceptions because he doesn’t gamble. 

Maybe he should start. Players who hit home runs and strike out a lot usually get paid. With the Bears defense showing progress, it’s more likely the Bears reach an agreement with Johnson than not. 

8. Quick Hits: Bagent is the first Bears quarterback to win his first NFL start since Craig Krenzel (70.1 rating) beat the 49ers 23-13 at Soldier Field in 2004. … The Bears’ defense has allowed 17.0 points per game in the last four games — ninth best in the NFL in that span. … Bagent’s last victory was against Indiana (Pa.) in the Division II quarterfinals, when he threw four touchdown passes and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt in a 48-13 rout. … Davante Adams is now 14-3 in his career against the Bears. … Bagent had a better passer rating vs. the Raiders (97.1) than the Chargers’ Justin Herbert did in a 24-17 victory over the Raiders in Week 4 (72.7). 

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Quarterback P.J. Walker, completed passes of 30, 17 and nine yards, plus a seven-yard pass interference penalty in the final 2:35 to set up Kareem Hunt’s 1-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 39-38 victory over the Colts. 

10. Bear-ometer: 5-12 — at Chargers (L); at Saints (L); vs. Panthers (W); at Lions (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Lions (L); at Browns (L); vs. Cardinals (W); vs. Falcons (W); at Packers (L).

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