The Chicago Bears offense reached its high point on its first play of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
Rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent launched a pass down the right sideline, and Darnell Mooney reeled it in as he dived to the ground. Mooney said when the Bears went into their walk-through Sunday morning they knew they were going to take a deep shot to open the game, and they converted it into a 41-yard pass play.
The rest of the night didn’t live up to that promise in a 30-13 Chargers victory.
Three plays after the Mooney catch, on third-and-11, Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa sacked Bagent for a loss of 10 yards, and the Bears punted. On the next drive, the Bears got behind because of Lucas Patrick’s illegal use of hands penalty — one of seven Bears penalties — and went three-and-out. On the next drive, Bagent threw an interception. On the next possession, Velus Jones Jr. dropped a touchdown pass before the Bears eventually got into the end zone.
While the Chargers offense thrived with quarterback Justin Herbert, the Bears couldn’t keep pace behind the litany of mistakes and fell behind 24-7 by halftime.
After notching a win in his first career start last week, Bagent, the undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd, struggled to dig the Bears out of the hole. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 232 yards, no touchdown passes and two interceptions.
“Penalties are never good,” Bagent said. “You want to play clean as much as possible. And besides that, I can’t make it worse. … I have to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Now the question becomes if Bagent will have another shot to get a second victory or if starter Justin Fields will be ready to return when the Bears travel to New Orleans to face the Saints on Sunday. Bears coach Matt Eberflus said last week Fields was progressing in his recovery from a dislocated right thumb, and he promised to update Fields’ status Monday.
“That’s out of my control, so I’m going to attack the week the same way I always do,” Bagent said. “Everything stays the same.”
Bagent led a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that was capped by Darrynton Evans’ 11-yard touchdown run, one of four plays the Bears converted on third down on that drive. Bagent also scored on a 1-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter on a drive that started with the defense’s only takeaway.
But Bagent also turned the ball over twice, the first on a second-quarter pass to DJ Moore that Bagent called a miscommunication. Mooney said Moore ran the correct route based on the coverage, but Bagent expected him to run something different.
“He was expecting him to run a hitch, but based on the coverage DJ has to continue to go,” Mooney said.
Ja’Sir Taylor jumped on the pass that was well in front of Moore, and the Chargers turned the takeaway into a field goal that put them ahead 17-0.
Bagent was nearly intercepted to open the fourth quarter, but it was ruled an incomplete pass. The Chargers got the pick on the next drive when Bagent sent a pass to Mooney in the middle of the field. Mooney was hit hard, and the ball bounced off him and into the hands of safety Derwin James.
“There were a lot of plays where I’m getting through my reads and making the correct throws, and then there are a couple where I did maybe force the issue a little bit,” Bagent said of his performance overall. “So I’ve got to do a better job of that moving forward.”
Besides the mistakes, it didn’t help the Bears that the run game wasn’t up to their recent standards.
The Bears had totaled 162 or more rushing yards in each of their last four games. They only had gone under 100 in one other game, in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So putting up only 73 rushing yards — on 2.9 yards per carry — was out of character. Yes, they trailed almost the entire game, and that played into the total. But tight end Cole Kmet said he thought the Bears also were lacking in their physicality in the run game, especially compared to a week earlier against the Las Vegas Raiders.
“It just didn’t come with us from Chicago, which is too bad because that’s our identity and that’s what we need to play into,” Kmet said. “That edge we’ve usually got in the run game, I didn’t feel like it was there this week.”
That the performance came on “Sunday Night Football” made it all the more disappointing.
“As a kid, these are the games you dream about playing in, nationally televised and all that stuff,” Kmet said. “So when you have that type of performance out there, you’re definitely not too happy about it.”