The Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to face their first major test of the season this week. Little did they know the challenge would have nothing to do with their next opponent, the Denver Broncos, and everything to do with their best wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe. When local police arrested and charged Bowe with speeding and possession of marijuana Sunday night, plenty of questions emerged around a team that has yet to lose this year. The biggest is just how ready it is to deal with what could be the opportunity of a lifetime.
Regardless of what the skeptics say about the Chiefs’ success this season — and the knocks include everything from a mediocre offense to a soft schedule to an endless amount of key injuries plaguing their opponents — they are the best team in the NFL because of their 9-0 record. They achieved that status largely by playing great defense, but ample credit also must go to their collective attitude. They haven’t wilted under pressure nor have they complained about who gets the glory. They also hadn’t suffered through a misstep that could have a ripple effect on their team chemistry — until now.
This isn’t solely about reports that Bowe had marijuana in his car when police stopped him for driving 13 miles over the speed limit. It’s about basic judgment. Bowe has been in the NFL long enough to understand how rare it is to be a part of a season as special as the one the Chiefs are enjoying. As one of their veteran stars, he had to know one wrong move could undo much of what this team has built.
For one thing, Bowe is now officially a distraction in what many believe is that most important week of the Chiefs’ regular season. If Kansas City can win in Denver on Sunday night, it would hold a crucial two-game lead in the AFC West with a home game against Denver coming on Dec. 1. For a team that has been fighting for respect all season, this is a chance to firmly assume control of the division. With Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning hobbled by a high ankle sprain, Denver actually looks ripe for an upset few would’ve predicted a month ago.
Now everyone is wondering what Bowe was thinking during the team’s bye weekend. There are even legitimate questions about whether he’s taking his team’s good fortune for granted. The Chiefs aren’t talented enough to think they can take such chances and not have them impact their chances at victory. They’re still about five or six plays away from being an average team instead of one pursuing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
No matter how the Chiefs downplay this meeting with the Broncos, this is the contest they need to win most. It’s a statement game, the kind of opportunity that allows the rest of the league to see how good they really are and for them to learn as much as well. With Bowe’s arrest, they have to wonder how he’ll respond in a contest where, as usual, he’ll be Kansas City’s best receiving threat. Bowe also needs to be thinking about why he put himself in this position in the first place.
Bowe has had enough ups and downs in his seven-year career that he should know better. He’s battled the label of being an underachiever who struggled with drops early in his career. He went from being buried in the doghouse of former head coach Todd Haley in 2009 — when weight problems and a me-first attitude defined him — to being a Pro Bowl player for a team that won the AFC West a year later. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid also rewarded Bowe with a five-year, $56 million extension this past offseason when many people openly wondered if he deserved the deal. In other words, the Chiefs expected Bowe to be a leader.
Until now, Bowe deserved credit for his efforts this season. He hasn’t complained about his lack of touches (he’s on pace for 656 receiving yards with a career-low average of 41.0 yards per game), and he’s been an underrated blocker for an offense that needs every yard it can get. In many ways, Bowe had been the perfect of example of what Reid and Dorsey are building in Kansas City. The only numbers that seemed to matter to him these days were the ones that were monitored in the win-loss column.
Bowe isn’t in a position where his arrest will hurt his team Sunday night — he will be starting as the league waits for the legal process to run its course — but he has certainly done ample damage to his reputation. He’s also put his teammates and coaches in a position where they had to spend a good part of Wednesday talking about his screwup. If you think that isn’t a problem, you don’t know NFL locker rooms. The last thing players want to do is take questions on topics that have nothing to do with their collective goals.
The irony here is that the Chiefs are now receiving extensive national exposure for the first time this season, with Bowe’s story dominating the headlines. The talk in Kansas City right now isn’t about Reid’s coaching, Alex Smith‘s leadership or a defense that has punished every opponent it’s faced. It’s not even centered entirely on Manning’s bum ankle. It’s about how Bowe reminded everybody of why the Chiefs should’ve thought long and hard about giving him another long-term deal in the first place.
To be fair, this doesn’t put Bowe in the same boat as San Francisco outside linebacker Aldon Smith or Denver outside linebacker Von Miller, both of whom missed extensive time this season because of issues off the field. But those players also are younger than the 29-year-old Bowe and more likely to stumble as they learn to handle superstardom. At this point, Bowe has no excuses for the mess he’s created for himself. All he can do is hope it doesn’t lead to larger problems for a team that still has plenty to prove in the coming weeks.