The buzz around UDFA QB Tyson Bagent in the week leading up to the Raiders-Bears game was electric.
Both the Chicago and NFL media world seemed ready to explode if Bagent was even modestly successful — Bagent had already captured Chicago’s eye during the preseason, but when you factor in his underdog background (former Division 2 QB at Shepherd University), his hilarious armwrestling father, and the potential impact he could have on a 1-5 team that needed a spark against a beatable opponent, it’s no surprise that Tyson quickly became one of the easiest players to root for in football.
But a great story is often just that — a story. The NFL builds up underdogs every year only to see them fall at the hands of Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Kyle Shannahan, and the rigors of the NFL. It wasn’t long ago that Patriots QB Mac Jones was benched for 4th round QB Bailey Zappe in a 2022 game that Bears fans will never forget, but what most won’t remember about the rest of that game was Bailey Zappe’s three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble lost) and an overall performance that pushed New England right back to Jones the next week. The NFL’s best storybook tales often end in defeat.
But that couldn’t be further from what happened on Sunday. Instead, Bagent beat the odds once more and played a mistake-free football game (which is remarkable for a rookie, by the way) behind a creative Bears rushing attack that simply needed him to stay on-schedule through the air, convert the occasional 3rd down, and let D’Onta Foreman and a ramshackle Chicago offensive line slowly take over the game. And as 173 yards on the ground, a 4.6 yards-per-carry figure, and 2 touchdowns suggest, that’s exactly what this running game did.
As the offense marched up and down the field, Bagent’s ability to avoid negative plays really stood out to me — the 2023 Chicago Bears’ offense has been defined at times by drive-killing negative plays (sacks, turnovers, defensive touchdowns against), but in 30 dropbacks against the Raiders the only sack that Bagent allowed came with 9 seconds left in the first half. Throughout the rest of the game, Bagent navigated pocket pressure cleanly, distributed the ball to checkdowns/outlets, and allowed teammates like Khari Blasingame to prove their NFL worth by fielding Bagent’s outlet passes and churning out 4-6 yards after the catch.
On nearly every play, the ball moved a little further down the field. The ball never fell into the opposition’s hands. And, despite three false starts and three holding penalties, the Bears churned out 23 1st downs within a balanced offense and scored 24 points in the process. Bagent wasn’t the star, but was instead the leader of an 11-man unit — on Sunday, that unit was more than good enough to churn out offense and put up points.
I’d say that’s about as good as you can ask of a UDFA rookie QB in his first start.
There may be another day for hand-wringing over whether or not Bagent can repeat this start against better defenses, how long Bagent can succeed without attempting a throw further than 15 yards downfield (chart pictured below), or what this means for the future of the Chicago Bears’ QB position, but that day is not today.
Today, focus on how Tyson Bagent out-dueled a 15-year NFL Veteran in what was no-doubt the biggest game of his life — Sunday’s moment wasn’t too big for him, and with 65 friends & family members cheering him on in the stands (along with thousands of other fans), Bagent delivered on offense for 4 quarters in the first home win of the Bears season. If you ask me, that rules.
We’ll do Good, Bad, and Ugly later in the week. I’ll Check the Tape and get back to you.
Nick and I recorded a podcast where we talked through the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs of Chicago’s big win here:
Your Turn: How do you feel about yesterday’s game?