It might not have shown in the numbers until recently, but this has been a different year for Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe.
The league leader in drops last season with 11 despite playing in only 11 games, Bowe's play has been greatly improved in 2010, the way we hear it. The wideout's stats have begun to reflect the strides he has made, as he has nine receptions for 189 yards and four touchdowns in his last two outings. But we're told his play has been noticeably better all season, outside of one poor showing at Indianapolis.
For one, Bowe has been a big-play threat for the first time in his four-year career. Primarily a possession receiver in previous seasons, the LSU product is gaining 18.9 yards per catch, one of the highest averages in the league. While he hasn't been running more deep routes than usual, he has improved in picking up yardage after the catch, turning short receptions into long gains by being physical and fighting through tackles. That has been a major assist to QB Matt Cassel, whose strength is throwing short-to-intermediate routes.
Another area in which Bowe has excelled is run blocking. Head coach Todd Haley consistently has mentioned the receiver's improvement in walling off his man to create running room for RBs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, and the stats certainly back up the praise. The Chiefs have the league's No. 1 rushing attack, and while the offensive line deserves credit, not every run has been up the middle. When the backs have bounced outside, Bowe has frequently kept defenders from making tackles.
Considering the Chiefs' paper-thin receiving corps, Bowe's contributions have been needed more than ever. Veteran Chris Chambers, handed a new contract in the offseason, has been mostly invisible. He was inactive the past two weeks, and reports vary as to whether it was because of a finger injury or ineffectiveness. Either way, Chambers, the team's only other proven wideout, hasn't been reliable and doesn't figure to have a significant role the rest of the way.
Although we hear that fans in Kansas City still aren't happy with Bowe, it has become clear that he is finally living up to his first-round potential after three up-and-down campaigns. With a few more big games, he's likely to begin winning people over.