Actually, everyone was sick of seeing the drops. Though Todd Haley publicly backed Bowe following the dreadful performance in Indianapolis, the Chiefs head coach now admits that he’d heard the criticism and realized his No. 1 receiver was at a crossroads.
“Dwayne had a chance to catch a sure touchdown that would have put us ahead and he dropped the ball,” Haley said while presenting Bowe as the 45th-best player in the NFL as voted on by NFL players. “There was a heavy amount of criticism and that’s a moment that can break receivers.”
After the first quarter of the 2011 season, Bowe had just nine receptions with 152 yards and a touchdown. The catch total wasn’t much beyond his drop total. All of this, just one year after leading the Chiefs with 11 drops – a mark that was the second-highest in the league that season.
Bowe was the brunt of punch lines and the focus of sports talk fury. It looked like Bowe’s run in Kansas City might be heading towards its exit.
“The next game is on the road at Houston and Dwayne had one of the more impressive games that I’ve seen,” said Haley. “To me, that was a signature moment in his development, to come off maybe his worst game and have one of his best.”
Though the Chiefs lost, Bowe finished with six catches for 108 yards with two TDs. It was only his second 100-yard outing since October of 2009. From that point forward, the season changed for Bowe in a shocking manner.
He’d go on to catch 63 passes for 1,010 yards and 14 TDs over the remaining 12 games. In five of those contests he produced multiple TDs, which led the league and helped him finish with an NFL-best 15 TD grabs in 2010.
Bowe reversed his fortune from Indy’s goat to All-Pro performer; underachiever to Pro Bowl performer. He improved his overall game and earned the right to make plays.
“You earn the right by blocking for the running backs, sight adjusting when there is a blitz when you’re supposed to and bailing a quarterback out,” said Haley. “He’s transitioned to more of what the great players that we know do, which is – it’s never enough.
“That carrot is continually out there and being chased and now Dwayne Bowe has learned to do it and it translated into big plays on Sundays.”
The path to a first Pro Bowl appearance didn’t come easy. Bowe’s been in the dog house, served a league-issued suspension, made headlines with boneheaded comments and taken public arrows. But he’s also shown the ability to overcome.
The D-Bowe persona is no more. Now, it’s simply Dwayne Bowe doing the things that need to be done in order for his team to be successful. In turn, team success has led to personal milestones that “D-Bowe” never came close to seeing.
After nearly being run out of town, Bowe was named the 45th-best player in the National Football League by his peers – an incredible accomplishment given his stature as recent as last October.
“I would say that it didn’t hit me until this past offseason,” Bowe told KCChiefs.com last December. “This last offseason when I was talking to (Larry) Fitzgerald and found out about how hard (Haley) was on him and what kind of player he turned out to be.
“I was like, it’s just time to buy-in to the program and keep my nose down to see where it takes me. So far, it’s taken me to the top.”
It took more than a year for Bowe to understand what Haley was asking of him and even longer to shed his alter-ego. Now he’s reaping the benefits.
“Now that I understand the game, I would recommend that to every young guy,” Bowe said. “It’s not all about being flamboyant and outspoken. It’s about your productivity. Since I’ve been keeping my head down and not saying anything, it’s been going up.”
Once a poster child for underachieving, Bowe has re-defined himself as one of the NFL’s elite players.
Will it last?
“There’s definitely upside, but I think it’s going to be up to Dwayne whether he wants to make that decision to be one of the greatest,” Haley said. “That takes a lot of commitment and a lot of sacrifice. He’s made a lot to this point, but it’s a whole other level and I think he got a taste of it this year.