On The Mark

Posted Nov 30, 2010

Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe have been on a torrid pace since Todd Haley publicly defended them seven weeks ago

Seven weeks ago, Todd Haley took his normal place behind the podium and faced a firing squad for roughly half an hour. The pitch forks and torches were out. Dwayne Bowe had dropped a critical touchdown pass in Indianapolis not 24 hours prior and he then proceeded to boot another ball on the very next play.

As irrational as it was, many people wanted Bowe gone right then and there. Some people called for Brodie Croyle to start at quarterback against Houston the next weekend as well. Knee-jerk reactions and closed-minded thinking; who cares? Emotions were off the charts following Kansas City’s first loss of the season.

While there was differing opinion among the fan base regarding each player, most everyone wanted to know where the head coach stood.

“I want to be clear that that game did not come down to Dwayne Bowe catching or not catching that ball,” Haley said at the time. “I want to say this as the head coach. It really didn’t because we win as a team and we lose as a team and there were enough situations in that game, before and after that play, that the outcome could’ve changed. “

And about Cassel…

“I’m going to stand up for Matt Cassel, our quarterback,” Haley said. “Number one, we’re 3-1 in the first quarter of the season, which is exactly what we want or what we will go into the next quarter feeling good about every single time it ever happens – when that situation changes, I better be making a heck of a lot of money, when we’re not happy with 3-1 in a quarter – he’s been our quarterback.”

Seven weeks later, the thought of Bowe and/or Cassel sitting on the bench sounds foolish. The two have the hottest connection in the league over that same time frame; combining for 49 pass receptions with 733 yards and 13 TDs. Bowe is now the league’s touchdown leader, owns the highest single-season TD catch total in KC history and extended his team record with his seventh straight game with a TD catch on Sunday. Just yesterday, analysts on the NFL Network were debating if Bowe could break Moss’ TD catch record (23).

Cassel, on the other hand, has been equally as impressive. His 18 TD passes over the last seven games are the most in the league, while his one INT represent the fewest. His 112.2 QB rating over that same span is also the top mark in the league.

There’s a stat for everything. Just yesterday, the Elias Sports Bureau churned out a stat that Bowe is one of only four players with 14 TD catches in the first 11 games of the season. The most was Randy Moss’ record-setting year in 2007 when he had 16.

But seven weeks ago, the majority of people felt that neither Cassel nor Bowe were producing the way that they should. When the bullets started firing in Haley’s direction, Bowe sat with just nine catches for 152 yards and a TD through four games and Cassel had thrown just one more TD than he had INTs. Fifty days later, Cassel’s owns a 18 TD/INT differential and Bowe is the talk of the league.

While much of the criticism surrounding Cassel and Bowe was premature back in early October, not even the most optimistic of fans could have honestly expected this type of result less than two months later. What gives?

“I think it’s just continued to build and that’s one of those things that takes time and you’re seeing over a year and a half of that work together starting to really pay dividends,” Haley said.

Cassel and Bowe are on a two-player passing/receiving ride that we haven’t seen since the days of Len Dawson. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Kansas City is a running football team.

Trent Green had some fantastic years with Eddie Kennison, and Tony Gonzalez put up receiving numbers during his time in Kansas City that will one day land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Stephone Paige trucked through the late 1980s and Derrick Alexander even partnered with Elvis Grbac for some impressive totals.

Bring them all into the discussion – Gannon, DeBerg, Rison, Birden or Carson - none of the pairings can touch the torrid pace that Cassel and Bowe have produced since Haley defended the pair that day at the podium.

“I don’t like to set a bar on players,” Haley said. “I try to set the expectations very high but within reason. What I am always looking for and what I want our coaches always looking for is that these guys set their expectations about our expectations.

“Dwayne obviously has high expectations for himself. The good thing is that he is doing it a different way than they we was doing when I first got here. From what I learned early on with the things he was doing and how he was preparing and just him overall as a professional, he is learning and growing up right before our eyes which is not a lot different than a lot of these guys, Matt (Cassel) being one of them. That is one of the great, fulfilling things as a coach.”

Bowe already owns a handful of franchise records set during his rapid climb and Cassel is closing in on some of the most prestigious marks in team history. Cassel is now just eight TD passes shy of Len Dawson’s single-season TD record (30) set in 1964 and Cassel’s current 99.7 QB rating would rank as the second-best seasonal effort behind Dawson’s 101.9 established in 1966.

Cassel and Bowe are even doing their best to replicate historic moments in franchise history. Most Chiefs fans are familiar with the iconic photograph of Dawson and Otis Taylor drawing a play in the dirt during the 1969 playoffs against the N.Y. Jets. On Sunday, Haley, Cassel and Bowe were drawing plays together in the dirt (or field turf).

"There were plays, because of what was occurring in the game, where we had to draw a couple in the dirt that Matt and Dwayne, specifically, executed to perfection, which I don't think you can make a living on," Haley explained. "But, in my past experiences, when you can have a quarterback and a receiver that can do that, according to some of the things we're seeing, that's a really good sign, really good sign.”

The specific play was a third-and-one fade to Bowe for 17 yards just inside the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter. The route consisted of a double-move that Bowe and Cassel executed perfectly. Kansas City would go on to cap off the drive with a TD pass from Cassel to TE Tony Moeaki three snaps later to take a 42-24 lead.

The pages are blank as to where Cassel and Bowe will head from here. What’s important is that each of these records that they are challenging to break (and/or breaking) is the product of players from successful teams.

The Chiefs need to be on point across the board this December in order to win the AFC West. Right now, Bowe and Cassel couldn’t be playing much better.

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