KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While you’re passing out game balls from upstate New York, don’t forget about No. 82.
Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe finished Week 10 with eight grabs in Kansas City’s 17-13 playoff-seed-shaping victory at Buffalo — the most he’s had in an NFL contest since a Nov. 1, 2012, loss at San Diego.
It was reasonably efficient work, too, with those catches coming on a game-high 12 targets from quarterback Alex Smith. And many of them were big, especially early, as the Chiefs trailed quickly and struggled to establish their two favorite things — the run game and throwing to the tight ends — against Buffalo’s excellent defensive front.
When the only way coach Andy Reid seemed to be able to move the ball was along the boundaries, Bowe, more often than not, tried to make something happen. Late in the third quarter the veteran receiver accounted for 45 of the Chiefs’ 80 yards on a touchdown drive that cut the hosts’ lead from 13-3 to 13-10.
Much has been made of the fact that Chiefs wideouts have yet to record a receiving touchdown after nine games, but less talked about have been Bowe’s steady contributions along the perimeter since his suspension served in Week 1. No. 82 is still scoreless, but he’s also on a pace for 78 receptions and 982 yards. Bowe hasn’t come close to either of those respective season numbers since 2011, when the ex-LSU star caught 81 balls for 1,159 yards and five scores. After all: When you’re 6-3, it takes a village. Right?
THREE LINGERING QUESTIONS FROM CHIEFS 17, BILLS 13
:03 … How badly does losing Cyrus Gray for the season hurt this roster?
In terms of the running game, not substantially; Gray had recorded just 17 carries over the past two seasons. But the third-year backup tailback, who reportedly tore a knee ligament in Buffalo, had made a solid — and fairly significant — mark over the past 26 games on special teams.
ProFootballFocus.com credited the former Texas A&M standout with two tackles, two penalties and a minus-1.6 mark through his first six appearances on special teams this fall. PFF charted Gray with three solo special-teams tackles and a plus-4.0 grade in 2013.
:02 … More notable by their absence: Donald Stephenson on the line or Travis Kelce over the middle?
The latter. After at least three targets in each of his first eight games, Kelce was targeted just twice against the Bills. The second-year tight end snared both throws from Smith, including one on third-and-8 late in the fourth quarter for a huge, game-clinching 13-yard gain and a first down.
A Chiefs offensive line that has regularly struggled with elite pass rushers fared slightly worse than expected against the Bills’ impressive front; Smith was sacked six times and had to escape from an imploding pocket on his own on at least another handful of occasions. Guards Mike McGlynn and Zach Fulton, in particular, struggled at times keeping Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams in check, leading social media to start calling out for Stephenson, who was expected to be the club’s starting right tackle before an NFL-mandated four-game suspension removed him from Reid’s first-team plans and the depth chart.
While pass protection continued to be an issue — and the Bills, to be fair, make it an issue against pretty much everyone else — the Chiefs’ offensive front still found a way to run the ball for 127 yards on 24 carries (5.3 yards per jaunt) and stuck with it, with most of those yards coming in the second half. During their current four-game win streak, the Andy Gang has run for an average of 132.8 yards per game behind that same line, and Reid likes the continuity he has there — warts and all.
:01 … Assuming I can start taking these playoff projections seriously, where is the Chiefs’ postseason path most likely to start?
If the season ended tonight, Cleveland. The Chiefs head into Week 11 in the same postseason slot as a year ago — as the top AFC wild-card team. That sends them to a road game at the division champion with the worst record as the 5 seed, which would mean a trip to the shores of Lake Erie against the fourth-seeded-for-the-moment Browns.
But here’s the best news of all: That might turn out to be the worst-case scenario on the table. With home games left against Denver (7-2) and San Diego (5-4) and a pair of meetings with Oakland (0-9) still to come, the Andy Gang still controls its playoff path. If the AFC West crown — and a home game — isn’t in the cards, keep an eye on the winners of the AFC South (Indianapolis, again) or, more likely, the wild AFC North, a division in which first and fourth are separated, at the moment, by less than a game.
And imagine the narratives if the Chiefs were to wind up visiting the Bengals: The only AFC franchise with a bigger stigma in January than Kansas City is the one in Cincinnati, which hasn’t won a postseason contest since 1990 and has lost its playoff opener each of the last three years.