On April 21, nearly a month after he was released by the Chiefs, Dwayne Bowe took to Twitter.
It was the evening — 7:27 p.m. — and the NFL had just announced the date and time for each game on its 2015 schedule. Bowe, who signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal with Cleveland after his release by the Chiefs, had one date in particular circled on his calendar, and he didn’t mind sharing it with the world.
“1 o’clock 12-27-15,” he wrote. “That date.”
Well, “that date” has finally arrived, as the Chiefs will be host to the Browns on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, the place where Bowe experienced his fair share of highs and lows over the first eight years of his career.
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Bowe left the Chiefs as the team’s second all-time leader in receptions (532) behind tight end Tony Gonzalez. He also finished third in yards (7,155) behind Gonzalez and Otis Taylor and fifth in receiving touchdowns (44) behind Gonzalez, Taylor, Chris Burford and Stephone Paige.
The impact he will make in his return, however, remains to be seen. While the Chiefs are 9-5 and on the verge of a playoff berth, the Browns are scuffling at 3-11, and at least some of this has to do with the performance of the men each team signed to be their No. 1 receiver this offseason.
The Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin to a five-year, $55 million free-agent deal, and he’s been a transformative figure for the offense, catching 79 passes for 985 yards and six touchdowns. His competitiveness and swagger have empowered those around him, and he’s earned the trust of quarterback Alex Smith, who has finally started taking more shots downfield, in part, to take advantage of Maclin’s all-round skill set.
But while Maclin, 27, is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season, Bowe has struggled to find his way in Cleveland, logging only five catches for 53 yards.
“He’s frustrated, and things haven’t gone the way that we thought they would go or he thought that would go,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. “It’s been a tough year.”
Bowe caught two passes for 22 yards last Sunday against Seattle after being a healthy scratch for three of the previous four games. In fact, Bowe, who averaged 58 catches and 713 yards in his two seasons under Chiefs coach Andy Reid, has been a healthy scratch for seven games this year.
Bowe was not made available to the Kansas City media this week, but Pettine said a pulled hamstring that caused Bowe to miss most of training camp made him fall behind.
“He got injured and it took a good amount of time to get back — everything from getting his timing back to having a good understanding of what we’re doing from a schematic standpoint,” Pettine said. “He got behind, and Travis Benjamin stepped to the forefront and played the X receiver and played at a high level. This is a guy who’s an alternate to the Pro Bowl who’s had a real breakout season for us, and that’s the position that Dwayne plays.”
But Benjamin, who has enjoyed a breakout season with 61 catches, 893 yards and five touchdowns, is a smaller guy at 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds. At 6-2, 222 pounds, Bowe is among the Browns’ biggest wide receivers but has not even carved out a red-zone role — which the Browns could use.
But Pettine noted, correctly, that backups on game day typically have to contribute on special teams, and Bowe doesn’t have a history of that.
“It’s been very difficult when you start filling the roster in on game day,” Pettine said. “You’re making sure that you have all the positions covered and then you basically backfill it based on special teams, and that’s something that Dwayne is not a part of. That’s led itself to where he is.”
But Bowe has served a role on the Browns, Pettine said, that of veteran mentor and leader.
“He’s been a professional,” Pettine said. “He sees himself as mentoring the young players, especially the ones in the wide-receiver room — and we do have some young guys. Here’s a guy that’s had a lot of production in the league for a long time. He’s not holding back advice for those guys just because his personal circumstances were what it is.”
Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel agreed, noting that Bowe has been a helpful, positive influence on his younger teammates.
“Yeah, as a person, I do really like D. Bowe,” Manziel said. “I think me and him obviously have a lot of fun when we’re here in the building working — I have nothing but good things to say about him.
“He obviously hasn’t been out there a lot. That’s definitely not, obviously not, my decision — it’s the coaches’ decision. But, at the same time, I do like D. Bowe as a person. I think he brings a great energy to this team and the guys that we have in there.”
Manziel said Bowe has warned that Arrowhead Stadium is a loud place and will be rocking, which led to the obvious question: Eight months after his “that date” tweet, has he said anything about his return?
“He has not,” Manziel said.
But Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson knows better.
“(I’m) looking forward to shaking his hand and seeing him and watching him play,” Pederson said. “He was a big part of this organization for so many years, and I know he’ll be excited to come back.”