In one sense, only a trivial nit is there to be picked over Chiefs’ wide receiver Dwayne Bowe’s fumble at the goal line against San Diego on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The ball, after all, was alertly recovered by tight end Travis Kelce for the Chiefs’ only touchdown in the 19-7 win that proved inadequate to salvage a playoff berth after four losses in their previous five games.
The moment reminded Kelce of the slapstick touchdown teammate Anthony Fasano scored Nov. 2 against the Jets … when Fasano had been knocked to the ground and the ball was deflected to him.
“It was one of those things when you get lucky every now and then,” Kelce said. “I was happy that I could go ahead and secure six points for us.”
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But the moment also was more telling, at least symbolically, about how and why this 9-7 Chiefs’ season lacked the punch for the prime-time stage of postseason.
Bowe, by the way, initially believed he had scored.
“I did,” he said, smiling, “but those cameras, man, they’ve got some good views.”
And a close-up on this illuminates a few things.
With a certain stylistic appropriateness, the play embodied a season in which the Chiefs failed to generate so much as one measly, lousy, solitary touchdown pass to a wide receiver … apparently for the first time in the NFL since the medieval days of 1950, when the Pittsburgh Steelers managed it.
The play parallels a season in which the Chiefs couldn’t bear prosperity — sagging after winning seven of eight and losing to two teams, Tennessee and Oakland, that otherwise were 3-27.
“If we had pulled those out,” Bowe said, “it would be a different story.”
The play stands for “close but no cigars,” trite but apt for the season signature, even as Bowe applied the words to his curious philosophical reconciliation about no receiver TDs.
“It’s not a bad thing, if you think about it: We won the game today, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “History is in the making, and that’s a part of history.”
When it was suggested this might not be such a desirable a piece of history with which to be associated, Bowe said, “I mean, history is history.
“It’s a weird stat, but it’s history, and I’m a part of it.”
It is a goofy stat, in more ways than one, because some of this is just semantics.
The Chiefs, after all, did throw 18 TD passes … to tight ends (nine) and running backs (nine).
Just the same, the sheer quirks of the milestone only go so far before they speak to something substantial about the season — and where the Chiefs are two years into the Andy Reid-John Dorsey era.
Because it was plenty evident after last season that the Chiefs needed more help at receiver.
Then they drafted a linebacker (Dee Ford), a cornerback (Phillip Gaines), a running back (De’Anthony Thomas), a quarterback (Aaron Murray), a guard (Zach Fulton) and a tackle (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif).
The immediate thoughts here were hmmmm … with benefit of the doubt.
Because (A) since they still were rebuilding a franchise, of course they have to consider not only the immediate but medium- and long-range plans, and (B) they had to have another big idea in mind at receiver that just wasn’t obvious.
But it’s hard to have the same assumed faith now.
The season’s over … and whatever they had in mind (the failed pre-draft bid for Emmanuel Sanders? Frankie Hammond Jr? Albert Wilson? Donnie Avery? Jason Avant? The departed Weston Dressler) never emerged.
When they picked Ford, whose quiet rookie season doesn’t say he won’t have a prosperous career ahead, they passed on the likes of Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee and Jordan Matthews — each of whom could have helped the Chiefs this season.
Now, perhaps the Chiefs will ultimately benefit from the choices they’ve made.
But insufficiently addressing one of their most glaring needs morphed into one of those issues they couldn’t overcome in the here and now.
And it became part of a syndrome that held back the offense all along:
As receivers consistently struggled to get separation, an at-best inconsistent offense line often was exposed.
Then quarterback Alex Smith (and Chase Daniel on Sunday) frequently were hard-pressed to let plays mature before having to make decisions.
There is some chicken-and-egg to this, of course, that includes quarterback play, but the combination of forces led to Smith being sacked 45 times and Daniel four times on Sunday.
It seems reasonable to suggest the Chiefs could have won one more game if a wide receiver had, say, created a timely touchdown in one of four they lost by eight or fewer points.
Or if Bowe had had a season more like 2010, when he scored 15 touchdowns.
Or if their second-leading wide receiver had had more than 16 catches (Wilson)
And so the end of Year Two looked a lot like the end of Year One:
Light years beyond the rubble of 2012, but 2-4 down the stretch (2-5 last season) … and with no playoff reward this time.
It’s worth remembering, of course, that no matter how much you’d want it to be, a rebuilding mode seldom is on a linear or uninterrupted trajectory. And this season hardly was a fiasco.
It marked just the second time the Chiefs have had back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-97.
That figures to mean some traction, if not a splash, going forward.
“You can’t expect a second-year offense to come out and make plays that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are making …,” said Bowe, who may or may not be back in 2015 as he enters the third year of a $56 million contract. “It’s a stride, it’s a step, and I think we’re on the way to that.”
If so, though, it wasn’t tangible.
Even if it was less than a true regression, it certainly wasn’t progress.
Afterward, Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt was asked what he’d like to see changed next season.
“Well, I don’t think there is any one thing that you can say, ‘OK, this is how we’re going to be better next year,’ ” Hunt said. “John Dorsey, his staff, Andy and his staff, they’ll get into the self-evaluation mode here right away.
“We’ll have the free agency and the draft right around the corner. And the key is we’ve got to come back a better football team next year.”
Especially because they really didn’t this year.