Another week. Another loss. Another set of performance and injury issues to sift through. The Chicago Bears didn’t expect to be approaching the midpoint of their season this way, still unable to win consecutive games and staying far more relevant in the 2024 draft conversation than they are in the 2023 playoff picture.
Sunday’s 30-13 blowout to the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., once again confirmed the Bears as a struggling team lacking the playmaking firepower to consistently beat quality opponents.
As that latest defeat settles in, Tribune writers Dan Wiederer and Colleen Kane play a game of tTrue or false with four prominent topics.
Kane: True or false? After Sunday’s shaky performance against the Chargers, the Tyson Bagent fairy tale is effectively over.
Wiederer: Wait. What? Are we being serious here, Chicago? Are we seriously trying to implement a super-speed round for quarterback evaluation that offers only two starts before definitive conclusions must be drawn? False. False, false, false.
Indeed, Bagent struggled Sunday and was behind the wheel of a sloppy offensive performance in which the Bears only squeezed 13 points and 295 total yards out of 11 possessions. The young quarterback threw two interceptions and was almost picked off two other times. On the road, against a defense that entered the night allowing a league-worst 310 passing yards per game, Bagent went 25-for-37 for 232 yards. It certainly wasn’t a repeat performance of the impressive control he showed in his first start during an encouraging home victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. But Sunday’s dud also wasn’t a surprise, particularly for an undrafted rookie out of Division II who is still acclimating to the speed and demands of the NFL.
Inconsistency and struggle will always be part of the journey for young quarterbacks as they gain experience. Part of the key is properly reacting to and growing from shaky outings like Sunday’s. Look, I’ve been on record saying Justin Fields needs to be back in the huddle as soon as the medical staff clears him to play. Getting a comprehensive evaluation of his development and direction is one of the major to-do items for the 2023 Bears. And Bagent should be ready to slide back into the QB2 seat, perhaps as early as this week. But to declare an abrupt end to his fairy-tale rise? Nope. Nuh-uh. That’s ridiculous.
Kane: Bagent’s performance Sunday, part of a Bears offensive showing riddled with mistakes, wasn’t great, but you’re right in saying it also wasn’t something that should serve as the basis for writing off Bagent’s ability to play in the NFL. I haven’t quite understood the people who are so quick to do that after a start or two even if they’re skeptical of his roots at Shepherd University. But the situation is obviously complicated in that Bagent’s attempt to improve with more experience will have to pause when the Bears go back to Fields. When that happens, when will Bagent get his next opportunity?
I think we can recognize the talent and potential of Fields and want the Bears to see if he can put it all together for the rest of the season while also saying we’re interested in seeing if Bagent can improve with more experience. (Saying one of those statements doesn’t make me a hater of the other, no matter what social media tells me!) But one does come at the expense of the other. And that means while Bagent’s underdog story might not be over, it eventually will have to pivot to being told from the backup role. For now, he will get another shot against the Saints.
Wiederer: True or false? If Justin Fields is healthy enough to play, it’s better for him to come back against the Lions in Week 11 than the Panthers in Week 10.
Kane: False. As long as he can’t do further damage to his injured thumb, Fields should come back as soon as he and the Bears feel like the injury won’t hinder his ability to lead the offense. As we’ve talked about before, Fields has a lot riding on the last two months of this season as he tries to convince the Bears they should stick with him beyond this season. I understand the thinking that coming back on a short week of practice to face the Panthers on “Thursday Night Football” isn’t ideal. But after Bagent starts against the Saints, Fields would have just eight games to get this Bears offense into a groove. Especially if he can practice in some capacity this week, he needs to get started as soon as he physically can. And returning in a winnable game against the Panthers seems like a good time.
Wiederer: Fields, Matt Eberflus said, isn’t quite well enough to play in New Orleans, a declaration the Bears coach made firmly Monday, very early in Week 9. With that established, I would now hold Fields out until after the second mini-bye following the Panthers game, which will afford him a smoother on-ramp back into action with a week where he could actually get back into the flow of things through practice reps. But yes, as you pointed out, the clock is definitely ticking here. The Bears only have nine more games before they will face some pretty significant decisions regarding how to move forward at the most important position in the sport. They need to have Fields back on the field soon to continue adding to his file with all the requisite improvements he needs to make for the organization to believe strongly in his development.
It seemed reasonable to think Fields’ right thumb would be healed and his grip strength functional for this week. But if the Bears insist he’s still struggling physically and can’t play the position properly, then we will all settle in for another Tyson Bagent start. Or perhaps two.
Kane: True or false? The NFL should seriously consider flexing the Bears’ Week 12 game with the Vikings off Monday night.
Wiederer: True. The last-place Bears haven’t won consecutive games since late in the 2021 season and haven’t shown the ability to regularly entertain a national audience. And the suddenly resurgent Vikings are now dealing with the torpedo that hit their season Sunday when quarterback Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon. If the Nov. 27 game at U.S. Bank Stadium had much appeal to begin with, it definitely dipped after Sunday’s developments for both teams. So yes, the league should consider an alternative for that “Monday Night Football” opening. Yet here’s the big snag: That’s Thanksgiving weekend, and the league already has three games locked into the Thursday holiday slots, another (Dolphins-Jets) set for the afternoon of Black Friday and then a Ravens-Chargers affair scheduled for Sunday night. That significantly reduces the inventory of games the league can consider flexing to move Bears-Vikings out of Monday night.
Kane: Yeah, it’s not exactly a marquee matchup from where we stand right now, though the Bears might be game for a Cousins-less Vikings team in prime-time. It might finally be their chance for the first NFC North win of the Matt Eberflus era, if they can’t get it done a week earlier against the Lions in Detroit. The league has been flexing Sunday night games for years but just implemented the Monday and Thursday night flex options this year. They have to announce it no fewer than 12 days before the game, so we should know in a couple of weeks if Bears fans need to adjust their Thanksgiving weekend plans for viewing — assuming the Bears are still keeping their interest by that point.
Wiederer: True or false? The Bears’ lack of a pass rush is the defense’s biggest problem.
Kane: True. It was the Bears’ biggest problem last year, and it remains so this year despite general manager Ryan Poles’ efforts to make upgrades to the defensive line in the offseason. The Bears have only 10 sacks as a team and rank last in the NFL with a 3.4% sack rate. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert operated with ease while completing 31 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns without being sacked Sunday. Linebacker T.J. Edwards is tied with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue for the team lead with two sacks. Defensive tackle Justin Jones has seven quarterback hits.
The Bears defense has had other issues too. Injuries in the secondary have contributed to some of its struggles. Missed tackles were prominent Sunday. The Bears only had one takeaway against the Chargers. But the Bears’ inability to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks has been so glaring, and it’s something Poles needs to make his offseason focus.
Wiederer: Not only do the Bears rank 32nd in sacks, they are five shy of the eight defenses that are tied for second-to-last in that category. (And don’t forget, a dozen teams have already had bye weeks to limit their totals through Week 8 as well.) On Sunday, the Bears not only didn’t sack Herbert — it was the 18th time in the 25-game Eberflus era they went without multiple sacks — they only hit Herbert twice. When you give any quarterback that kind of peace of mind, he becomes dangerous. When you give a standout quarterback that kind of comfort, it’s downright lethal.
We’ve known for a long time that adding pass rush help is a major priority for the Bears. It has to be addressed. ASAP. Until then, we’ll continue knowing the Bears defense as an all-too-ordinary unit incapable of consistently being the reason the team wins.