For the first time in more than a year, the Chicago Bears locker room at Soldier Field was filled with postgame joy.
Players danced. Coach Matt Eberflus handed out game balls to Tyson Bagent, Jaylon Johnson and D’Onta Foreman. And the Bears reveled in a 30-12 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders to break a 10-game home losing streak.
Now they’ll try to keep the good vibes going as they prepare for a “Sunday Night Football” game on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers behind Bagent, who is likely to make another start in place of injured quarterback Justin Fields.
Tribune writers Colleen Kane and Dan Wiederer look at what’s next with four true-or-false conversations.
Wiederer: True or false? Tyson Bagent’s solid performance Sunday complicated the Bears quarterback conversation.
Kane: True. I’m not saying there is a quarterback controversy yet. There isn’t. Eberflus made it clear after the game that Fields will return as the starter when his thumb heals and that Bagent did a nice job as his backup. But is the quarterback conversation complicated? Yes, because Bagent helped the Bears do something they have done only four times with Fields in the last two years — win a game.
The offense was fueled mostly by the run game and short passes, but Bagent operated it smoothly and efficiently while throwing for 162 yards and didn’t have any turnovers. For an undrafted rookie from a Division II school making his first NFL start, it was good. Was it spectacular enough to make everybody question whether the Bears should go back to Fields as they evaluate him for their long-term future? No. But if Bagent does it again Sunday against the Chargers, would it increase those questions? Probably.
Whether it’s coaching, supporting cast or his own play, Fields hasn’t produced consistently enough over 31 starts to calm such chatter. And that’s the heart of the matter.
Wiederer: Well said. And, yes, the status bar of the Bears quarterback situation must read “It’s complicated” now. Because the team is headed toward some pretty major decisions in the 2024 offseason as it tries to establish long-term direction at the most important position.
Can Fields return for the final two months and play his way into the long-term plans of general manager Ryan Poles and his front office? Of course. Is it also possible Fields continues to struggle enough that the Bears pivot and draft their quarterback of the future in the first round in April? Yep. Bagent’s effectiveness also can give the Bears a lot to think about, particularly if he stacks a handful of efficient, victorious performances by doing his part for the offense, which does its part in producing successful complementary football.
We all have to resist the temptation to draw grand conclusions after every game and allow the rest of this season to play out. But, yes, Bagent’s ability to play within himself and control the game against the Raiders added an interesting wrinkle.
Kane: True or false? The Bears can make their way back to .500 before the next mini-bye.
Wiederer: True. That is 100% mathematically possible and simply requires victories over the next 16 days against the 2-4 Chargers, 3-4 New Orleans Saints and 0-6 Carolina Panthers. But — and, yes, with me there’s always a practical “but” that needs to be included — baby steps. These Bears need to stay where their feet are at every moment of Week 8 as they prepare to head west for a prime-time game. It’s beyond premature for a team that hasn’t had a three-game winning streak since December 2020 to suddenly start chasing a four-game surge and a place in the NFC playoff picture. Before you can win four in a row, you have to win three. And before you can win three in a row, you have to win two.
If anything, Sunday’s victory was most encouraging in how thorough it was and how the Bears steered around game-losing mistakes. When the football world talks about “learning to win,” that’s part of it. It’s about playing complementary football. It’s about being assignment sound and playing with cohesion. It’s about getting a lead, building on it and then guiding that lead across the finish line.
Kane: Yeah, there’s a big difference between what’s technically possible and what’s likely. Call me cynical — that’s what watching 19 losses over the last two years will do to you — but stringing together a four-game winning streak for a team we were writing off after an 0-4 start seems like a big ask. So I’m with you on the baby steps.
OK, so the Bears defense can shut down a Minnesota Vikings offense without Justin Jefferson and a Raiders offense without Jimmy Garoppolo. Great. Now do that to the Chargers. The offensive line helped pave the way for 173 rushing yards and allowed only one sack of Bagent against the Raiders. Good performance. Now do it for more than one game in a row. And on and on.
It did feel like some confidence was building within the Bears locker room Sunday. Defensive players were talking about the growing chemistry they feel as they log more reps together. But we are a long way from being able to call this a turning point in the Bears season. Let’s see a two-game winning streak first.
Wiederer: True or false? Jaylon Johnson deserves to be paid.
Kane: True. I’m not going to argue against a good player getting paid, and I enjoyed Johnson’s showmanship after his pick-six against Brian Hoyer, indicating he’s ready for his money. Now, are the Bears and Johnson going to align on their contract numbers? That I don’t know. Because as reliable as Johnson has been defending some of the best wide receivers the Bears have faced, he made just his second and third career interceptions against the Raiders. He also has missed at least a couple of games with injuries every season.
It seems like Johnson is aware of how both of those things might affect his contract situation, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I would think the Bears would do what they can not to part with a good homegrown player at a premium position, but they also have two young cornerbacks in Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith who have done some good things so far. Does that affect their thinking at all?
Wiederer: This league is all about building through the draft, developing good young players and keeping them as part of your core as you make a run at winning big. Johnson should be with the Bears as long as he wants to be. Poles should find a way to build a bridge in contract talks that makes that possible.
I’m not saying the Bears should give Johnson a record-setting payday that reshapes the market at cornerback. He’s not a star of that caliber. But he is a high-quality starter for a team trying to climb, and if he can continue to stay healthy and produce splash plays, he should get what he deserves. That would benefit everybody, and the Bears have to be careful not to make this more difficult than it has to be, particularly given their salary-cap flexibility from the initial roster teardown under Poles’ watch.
Kane: True or false? The Bears made a mistake by keeping running back D’Onta Foreman inactive for four games.
Wiederer: False. I’m admittedly conflicted with my answer because I love what Foreman did Sunday on his way to 120 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. The dude was a beast. He ran with a cool blend of patience and purpose. He provided steadiness that Bagent benefited from. He was gritty and tough and productive.
Still, one of the reasons Foreman wasn’t playing for a month was the depth the Bears built in their running backs room. They had Khalil Herbert as their top back and a promising rookie in Roschon Johnson earning more playing time. Quality depth is a staple of most winning rosters. Certainly, it was difficult for Foreman to control his frustration with admirable patience. But when his opportunity came, he seized it and delivered in a big way. Now he’ll have additional opportunity, with Herbert still out, to continue building on that performance.
Kane: You’re right. I was a little surprised that Foreman was cut out of the mix after coming off a breakout season with the Panthers. But I also understood the Bears’ reasoning. Herbert, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry in 2022, was averaging 5.3 before he was hurt, fourth in the NFL. Johnson, whom the Bears want to develop, was playing well and had special teams value, and Travis Homer is a key to special teams.
There are only so many game-day roster spots for running backs, and it’s a testament to the Bears’ depth at the position that Foreman was waiting in the wings. But I’m with you: I have really liked watching Foreman play, and I like his story of perseverance too. If he keeps playing this way, I’m not sure what happens when Herbert and Johnson come back. But as you said, for now Bears fans can keep watching him try to make the most of his chance.