KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Baltimore's tough and gritty defenders did not simply shut down Dwayne Bowe.
They shut him out.
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Kansas City's Pro Bowl wide receiver went into January's playoff game with 72 catches, 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns and emerged with 72 catches, 1,162 yards and 15 TDs.
Bowe was so thoroughly blanketed during the 30-7 blowout loss that Matt Cassel never even attempted to throw him a pass. He wanted to. But the Ravens, with no other plausible threat to worry about, were able to focus on Bowe to the point they effectively made him a spectator.
Is it any wonder Scott Pioli and his scouts have been looking at A. J. Green of Georgia, Julio Jones of Alabama and Torrey Smith of Maryland as they draw up draft plans? A wide receiver with downfield speed to complement Bowe seems essential for the Chiefs to take the next step and challenge the best defenses in the NFL.
Last year's franchise-record six-game improvement from 4-12 to 10-6 produced an AFC West title and left the Chiefs with the 21st overall selection after drafting in the top five the previous two years. It was a season that also exposed many needs.
"We've started to put some of the building blocks in place and understanding the world and the environment we live in," said Pioli. "There are a lot of needs across the board."
In his first two Kansas City drafts, Pioli went first for defense, taking defensive end Tyson Jackson with his first pick in 2009 and safety Eric Berry last April. Jackson has been a disappointment, though Pioli insists there's still plenty of time for growth. Berry, an instant starter, enjoyed a terrific rookie season and appears ready to anchor a topflight secondary for the next decade.
Pioli's third Kansas City draft may well focus on offense. Besides a wide receiver with speed, help is needed for an aging offensive line. Four-time Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters is nearing his mid-30s and steady, reliable Casey Wiegmann, who has started 159 consecutive games at center, indicated he may not be back for another year.
Running back, with Thomas Jones about to turn 33, might also be a priority.
Coach Todd Haley brilliantly alternated between the physical Jones and fast-but-fragile Jamaal Charles last year, giving Jones 245 carries and Charles 230. Charles used his carries to rush for 1,467 yards and team up with Bowe as the Chiefs' first running back-wide receiver tandem with more than 1,000 yards apiece.
Whether Jones has another 245 carries in his superbly conditioned physique is a question. If he does not, the Chiefs will need a replacement because they are not going to risk injury to Charles, their most dangerous weapon.
Defensively, the Chiefs are badly in need of better play at nose tackle, so Baylor's Phil Taylor could be an option. At outside linebacker, Mike Vrabel has been valuable on the field and in the locker room but someone to complement Tamba Hali, who had 14.5 sacks, is desperately needed.
As always, Pioli refuses to tip his hand.
"I don't know if I've ever gone through any draft and said, 'This is the absolutely total No. 1 thing that is our No. 1 need,'" said Pioli. "That's the truth. You can't be so shortsighted to not understand what might happen to your roster at the beginning of 2012. I don't think there's a position on this football team where there isn't a need."
As he did in New England, Pioli will make sure not to focus too much on the short-term.
"There are bad things that can happen to players and your team, so you better be ready for the next player. So we have a need at every position," he said. "Some are ranked higher than others for immediacy, but that doesn't mean you run from another position. It goes into trying to find the delicate balance between best player available and need.
"It's obvious to people what people perceive and what we perceive the needs are. But you also have to think ahead. You can't focus in a one-year or even a two-year frame of thinking because then you set yourself up for failure when you're trying to build a consistent winner."