Dwayne Bowe just finished one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, one in which the Chiefs freshly minted $56 million receiver took a backseat to the No. 1 running back when it came to both catches, targets, yards and touchdowns.
Yet, teammates and coaches have consistently raved about Bowes unselfishness, and while his diminished production may have led some to believe he is, perhaps, on the downside of his career at 29, there are respected football men who still believe in his talent.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who called the Chiefs 45-44 first-round playoff loss to the Colts for NBC, is one of them.
Hes a big-bodied receiver that, when focused, ought to catch 80 or 90 passes a year, Mayock said. Theres no doubt he still has the ability. Hes going into his eighth year. He should have two or three really solid years left.
Mayock, of course, had the pleasure of watching Bowe terrorize the Colts in person during what was easily his best game of the season, as he caught eight passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. You can argue the Chiefs turned to him out of necessity, thanks to injuries to star runner Jamaal Charles and No. 2 receiver Donnie Avery, but Bowe prefers to think he rose to the occasion when his number was called.
I think when Jamaal went down, we had to change our game plan (from running) to passing, Bowe told radio station WHB (810 AM) on Tuesday. Coach (Andy) Reid, he tries to get everybody the ball its not like a couple years ago, when I was the only one productive on the offense and you had to come to me 12 or 13 times a game. Coach just wants to keep everybody happy and put everybody in situations to make plays.
Yet, theres little doubt the Chiefs need more from Bowe, who caught 57 passes for 673 yards and five touchdowns this year but is one of the leagues highest-paid receivers on a team with very little cap room, to boot.
For the money, said Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia director of pro personnel, you want the Indianapolis performance more often than not. You want more of the consistent type of performance. Yeah, he needs to come through for them. They showed a lot of faith in him and made a big commitment to him. He needs to repay that commitment through his performance.
Theres a belief that Bowe, who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 221 pounds, could take a major step toward doing just that by having a strong offseason of conditioning, something that Bowe himself acknowledged during the radio interview.
One thing I want to work on my endurance, Bowe said. I was really, really tired that last game.
Bowe said he plans on changing the way he eats, though he didnt provide details. He said he played this year between 212 and 214 pounds but hopes to report to camp a little lighter to better fit the offense.
I probably want to play at 208 and try to be as quick and swift as possible, because thats the kind of receivers that Andy had when he was in Philly, Bowe said. Id like to be more explosive and faster than I was this season. I just want to work on my work ethic a little more and become quicker and faster so I can be like DeSean Jackson and those speedy, quick guys.
If Bowe is serious about his offseason preparation and can somehow find a way to approach his 2010 production when he caught 72 passes for 1,162 yards and a career-high 15 touchdowns Mayock said the presence of a rejuvenated Bowe alone could help the Chiefs Charles-centric offense take a major step forward in 2014.
Youre talking about playmakers, Mayock said. Youre talking about helping (quarterback) Alex Smith make plays. Right now, when you look at this team, Jamaal Charles was the only playmaker on offense. He was special. But it puts an awful lot of pressure on your quarterback and your halfback when your halfback is the only big-time playmaker.
So if Dwayne Bowe can catch the ball down the field, use his big body in the red zone and make plays out wide, it opens an awful lot up (all over the field).
However, it would also go a long way toward proving he is worth the massive contract he signed in the offseason, though Bowe, as he has all season long, again insisted Tuesday that he willingly traded stats for wins in 2013 and would gladly do so again.
Anytime you can take your team to the playoffs, I figure thats a great year, no matter the stats, Bowe told the radio station. I played all-around great football, both blocking and receiving and getting guys in position to be where theyre at today. Weve got three offensive guys going to the Pro Bowl.
Yet, in the same vein, Bowe reiterated that the goal is to post better numbers in 2014 and is adamant that hes still got the juice that earned him that big contract in the first place.
I know what I can do, and this was the first year of the (new) coaches seeing what guys can do, Bowe said. Next year, it will be even better for me, statswise. But when you get to this point of your career, you just want to win, and thats all I want to do.