CHICAGO -- There's a common thread among successful people regardless of their field: An unshakable self-confidence that stems from an internal belief that their process prepares them to excel in the highest pressure situations.
Say what you will about Tyson Bagent. Yes, he's an undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University who made the Bears' 53-man roster after an unlikely training camp rise. Yes, the chips were stacked against him since he arrived at Halas Hall for rookie minicamp in May. Sure, the eye-opening performances he put up against the twos and threes in the preseason are nothing compared to the speed and ferocity he'll face on a real NFL Sunday.
And yet, Bagent, who made his NFL debut during the Bears' 19-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday after Justin Fields left with a hand injury, never blinked.
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He's the same guy, no matter the outcome of the previous play. The heart rate is steady, the eyes locked straight ahead. He carries himself with the confidence of a signal-caller who holds the NCAA record for all-time touchdown passes at 159. He believes he belongs because he prepares to belong.
“I kind of, to an extent, put a burden on myself to get it known before I even allow myself to enjoy anything outside of this," Bagent told NBC Sports Chicago a few weeks ago about learning the weekly gameplan and his exhaustive studying. "Unless I want to be miserable, I usually get that stuff done Wednesday through Friday, so Saturday I can kind of just get my heart and soul ready to go out there on Sunday.”
So when Fields went down Sunday with what is reportedly a dislocated right thumb, Bagent calmly grabbed his helmet and started warming up on the sideline. He admitted he had some butterflies -- how could he not? He's only human. But there's a difference between butterflies and nerves. Those, Bagent didn't feel because he knew he was ready.
"Playing football’s my job," Bagent said after the Bears' loss. "I enjoy playing football, so I was excited to get out there. Obviously butterflies. You’re playing in front of so many people, and you know the stakes are high in the NFL. Felt really prepared. Felt like the coaches did a good job of always preparing all the quarterbacks week-in and week-out, just because it’s always one play away. Felt good. Felt prepared and excited."
Bagent calmy took his first snap and delivered a strike to Velus Jones Jr. for a 6-yard gain. First completion, check. But shortly after, Bagent was sacked and fumbled the ball. The Vikings scooped it up and took it the distance for what would end up being the deciding score.
Such a catastrophic mistake could easily derail an undrafted rookie getting his real taste of the NFL.
But Bagent responded by leading a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive on which he went 4-for-4 for 55 yards. He capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Bagent made quick decisions, was accurate, and got the ball into the hands of DJ Moore. That's a recipe for success.
"His demeanor was great. It's always great," head coach Matt Eberflus said of Bagent after the loss. "He's cool, calm, and collected."
That demeanor and unshakable self-confidence give the Bears' locker room belief that Bagent can lead them and win games if Fields misses time with the thumb injury.
"He's a baller, as you can see," wide receiver DJ Moore said after the loss. "He had the preseason, then you have him come in today and just show that he belongs. Made some impressive throws."
"He has confidence in himself, and that's important in a quarterback," tight end Cole Kmet said. "You can hear that in the huddle. He's got conviction when he throws it. I told him to keep letting it rip. ... He's got a ton of self confidence and everyone else can feel that in the huddle."
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson and the defense felt that same energy while watching from the sideline.
"He's confident. We felt he was going to go down and score and continue to move the ball like they were when Justin was in there," Johnson said. "Nothing changed for us [with Bagent in]."
Bagent was a mixed bag in his NFL debut. There were good throws and crisp operation of the offense, but also the stip-sack and game-sealing interception when Bagent underthrew Moore, who was covered one-on-one.
After the loss, Bagent took accountability for both mistakes, noting it's his job to take care of the ball and his inexperience or coming in cold off the bench to run a gameplan tailored to Fields' strengths are not acceptable excuses.
At the moment, there's no timetable for Fields' return. He wanted to re-enter the game Sunday but couldn't grip the football. Fields will get an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.
But assuming Fields has to miss at least some time, it will be the Tyson Bagent Show moving forward for the Bears.
The Bears believe in the player and the person, but Bagent will need help from his veteran teammates, especially on the defensive side, to make sure he's as prepared as possible to thrive on Sundays.
"For us, we got to push him," Johnson said of helping prepare Bagent for Sundays. "We got to give him good looks. He was going against us on scout team, so I feel like he has seen good defenses and seen guys fly around and things like that. It's not anything different for him. He has played good defenses and good players. He just has to go out there on Sunday and execute."
Offensively, Moore will play a significant role in making Bagent as comfortable as possible being QB1, should that be the case.
"Just being available and open," Moore said. "Like I've been. Just keep egging him on and just keep giving him the encouragement that he's playing in this league."
The Bears' offense was stagnant for most of Sunday. The Vikings' blitz-heavy defensive attack kept Fields off-balance before eventually knocking him out of the game.
But Bagent entered and gave the Bears life with that 77-yard touchdown drive. That's something they lacked for most of the afternoon, even when Fields was behind center. The long throw to Tyler Scott across the field was crucial in that nine-play drive. It was as backyard football as it comes, and yet, it gave the Bears a spark and a sense that Bagent could deliver a win.
"You've seen him out there running around just playing football," Moore said. "I've never seen a pitch and catch like he and Tyler. I was like, 'Oh, OK, we about to win this.' But we didn't."
Even though Bagent couldn't deliver on the comeback, his game-ending interception showed a willingness to trust his receivers and an understanding that good things can happen when you let it rip.
"DJ Moore, one fo the best receivers in the world, one-on-one, any time we can get that, we like it," Bagent said of his interception. "Underthrew it there a little bit. That’s on me, and that’s something I gotta fix going forward."
Bagent showed toughness, confidence, accountability, and a natural ability to navigate the quarterback position. You could see him getting more comfortable as the game went on.
Most importantly, he has the backing of a locker room that still believes it can right the ship after a 1-5 start.
"He just has this confidence about him," Scott said. "When you have confidence in your teammates, that one man next to you is going to do his job, it just makes things easier. You just want to fight even more for him."
Losing a starting quarterback for any amount of time can send a team into the abyss if they don't believe in who is behind them.
That doesn't appear to be the case with the 2023 Bears.
They believe in Bagent because he believes in himself. That self-belief comes from a maniacal work ethic that allows him to find his inner strength, harness it, and draw it to the surface to be at his best when his best is needed.
"This locker room got a lot of trust in Tyson and what he brings to the table," running back D'Onta Foreman said. "We see him work each and every day at practice and the things he has been able to do. We got a lot of confidence in 17."