Both QBs struggle, but Bears beat Panthers 16-13

There was little difference Thursday night between the Bears’ undrafted rookie and the quarterback the Panthers drafted first overall in April.

SHARE Both QBs struggle, but Bears beat Panthers 16-13
Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent celebrates Thursday night.

Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent celebrates Thursday night.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There was little difference Thursday night between the Bears’ undrafted rookie and the quarterback the Panthers drafted first overall in April.

Whether that’s high praise for Tyson Bagent or damning of Bryce Young won’t be known for another year or two. The Bears’ first look at what might have been, though, probably produced little envy at Halas Hall. The Bears won 16-13 in a slog, with Bagent outperforming the former Alabama star. Bagent went 20-for-33 for 162 yards and a 73 passer rating. Young went 21-for-38 for 185 yards and a 68.4 rating.

Neither was good.

“[This game] wasn’t pretty,” wide receiver DJ Moore said. “But we found a way to win.”

Asked what he thought of Bagent, Moore rattled off his record.

“He’s 2-2,” Moore said. “That’s pretty good for a rookie. I hope he builds on that.”

Young doesn’t have two wins. For the Bears, the real FOMO — fear of missing out — resides in Houston, where C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick, has had one of the best starts by a rookie quarterback in league history.

Young is finding his way.

“He’s still working through some things, trying to figure himself out, which is normal,” Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones said.

Bagent is the Bears’ free roll. They signed him shortly after the draft and have developed him into someone capable of winning games. Whether the Bears can win with him or because of him is another question. On Thursday, he led the Bears to a field goal in the last minute of the first half. With 1:26 left in the game, Bagent completed an eight-yard pass to Darnell Mooney to seal the victory.

“That’s something you can build upon,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “I know people are gonna talk about the team we played and take that into context, but I think those situations at the end of the half, end of the game were things we’d struggled with before. That’s a good building block for us in terms of learning how to win games.”

It’s clear, though, that the Bears need Justin Fields back. A month after dislocating his thumb, he has a chance to start next week against the Lions — coach Matt Eberflus said it was a “big week to make that evaluation.” They need to continue their evaluation of him before this offseason, when the Bears figure to have two high draft picks — and at least one high enough to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

The Panthers have the same problem the Bears did in recent years with Fields — it’s hard to tell where his struggles begin and his supporting cast ends. That was the deal the Panthers made when they agreed to trade for the Bears’ first overall pick: To land Young, they had to give up Moore, who would have been his top target, two first-round picks and two second-round picks.

The Bears think they’ve found an offensive identity the last month — one built around a physical running game. Incorporating Fields back into it will be a test for a coaching staff whose future is as much in question as that of its quarterback.

The biggest thrill for either side came on a punt return. About 10 minutes into the game, former Bears wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette fielded a punt at the Panthers’ 24, slipped a diving tackle by Josh Blackwell to his left and cut back through a sea of Bears and toward the right sideline. He had one player to beat — punter Trenton Gill — and did just that at the Bears’ 30 before running up the right sideline and into the end zone. The punt-return touchdown was only the 10th since the start of the 2021 season.

Bears kicker Cairo Santos made a 49-yard field goal to cap the Bears’ next drive, but Cody Whitehair was called for a false start. The Bears were moved back five yards and tried again; Santos made the 54-yarder. Eddy Pineiro, another ex-Bear, parried with his own field goal. Santos booted a 36-yarder to go down four with about three minutes left in the half.

The Bears bullied their way into the lead in the third quarter, turning a short field into a four-yard D’Onta Foreman touchdown run.

Pineiro added another field goal midway through the fourth quarter despite the Panthers having first-and-30 and second-and-27 on their drive. Later, trailing by three, Young needed to convert two fourth downs to keep a drive alive. The first, from his 18 with 5:20 to play, was a two-yard quarterback scramble on fourth-and-one. The second, a fourth-and-two from their 46 with two minutes to play, yielded a 13-yard completion to running back Miles Sanders.

With 1:40 to play, Pineiro missed a prayer of a field goal — 59 yards — short and to the left.

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