The Chicago Bears’ offensive unraveling started with about 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter Sunday at the Caesars Superdome.
Trailing the New Orleans Saints by a touchdown, rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent sent a pass toward Darnell Mooney in the middle of the field, but safety Marcus Maye jumped in front of it for an interception.
Bagent hopped a few times and then dropped to the ground for a few seconds as he processed the turnover.
There were far too many of those moments in the Saints’ 24-17 win.
Maye’s interception was one of five Saints takeaways, including four off Bagent. In what could be one of his last starts in place of injured starter Justin Fields — if not the last — Bagent threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. He committed three of those turnovers on the Bears’ final four drives of the fourth quarter — with the game within reach thanks to some big defensive stops.
“It really just all comes down to myself in that last quarter of being able to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” Bagent said. “Coach talks about it every single day, how important it is to take care of the ball, and I didn’t do a good job of that.”
He added: “I thought our team played extremely well, which is why it’s so embarrassing. One-score game, to lose the turnover battle by that amount, it’s embarrassing.”
It’s unclear yet if that was Bagent’s last start in place of Fields.
Fields practiced Friday for the first time since dislocating his thumb Oct. 15. Bears general manager Ryan Poles said during the team’s pregame radio show on WMVP-AM 1000 there’s a possibility Fields will be ready to play Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said he will know more Monday as the team begins its three days of preparation.
“It was really good to see (Fields) throw and go through a progression over the last few days,” Poles said. “To see him back out on the field with his teammates, throwing on air, throwing in seven on seven, working through some adjustments with a glove, without a glove. We’ll see what he feels comfortable with moving forward. We’ll also lean on our medical staff to make sure that we’re making the right decision as well.”
If Sunday was an end to Bagent’s three-game stint as a starting quarterback, it wasn’t a good one.
The day had started so well for the Bears, with Bagent finding tight end Cole Kmet for a highlight-reel 18-yard touchdown on their opening drive. A diving Kmet reached up over the hands of Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu to pull down the score.
Bagent threw an interception on his second drive to Paulson Adebo on a pass to Kmet, but he rebounded by leading another touchdown drive, hitting Kmet again with a 9-yard touchdown pass. With the game tied 14-14 at halftime, Bagent had thrown for 148 yards, two touchdowns an interception and had rushed for 60 yards.
Kmet didn’t place the blame for the first pick entirely on Bagent, saying he could have at least tried to break up Adebo’s catch.
“I don’t know if (Bagent) got fooled with the drop-eight a little bit, but I could do a better job of coming back to the football, and I think the other guys would say the same on theirs as well,” Kmet said. “I just told (Bagent) to keep ripping it because those are the right throws. We’ve got to be better as playmakers in terms of making him right and making those plays, friendly angles, and all those types of deals. I still thought he played a really good game, and we’ve got to be better around him, and we’ve got to shore up the penalties.”
Adebo also forced wide receiver DJ Moore to fumble following a 13-yard catch in the third quarter, and the Saints followed with a field goal. But the game was tied heading into the fourth quarter.
The Saints then started all five of their fourth-quarter drives in Bears territory, though they only scored once, on a 3-yard Taysom Hill pass to Juwan Johnson that put them ahead 24-17 with 11 minutes, 11 seconds to play.
That’s when Bagent’s string of late turnovers began.
“We came kind of to a screaming halt there,” Kmet said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it before where they’re on our side of the 50 for the better (part) of the fourth quarter. … That’s crazy. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. I’ve never seen that in my life.”
After the Maye interception, the Bears stopped Saints quarterback Derek Carr for no gain on fourth-and-1 on the next drive. But the Bears gave the ball back six plays later when Adebo got in front of a pass to Tyler Scott for his third takeaway of the day.
“I think it was good on their part, bad on my part,” Bagent said of the fourth-quarter interceptions. “Tight coverage, they made a couple really good plays. Hats off to them, but once again, I’ve got to probably just go somewhere else with the ball. So that’s on me.”
The Bears had one final chance to tie when Blake Grupe’s 47-yard field goal bounced off the left upright to keep it a one-score game. But Saints linebacker Demario Davis got between offensive linemen Larry Borom and Cody Whitehair for a strip-sack of Bagent that linebacker Pete Werner recovered.
Bagent and Eberflus both said the rookie’s main focus is now learning from the mistakes he made. Whether that’s on the field in one more start or in practice as the backup to Fields should be known soon.
“We’ve just got to let it soak in for him,” Moore said. “You can’t just jump on him right now. We all know we lost the game because of turnovers. He knows that. We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board.”