KANSAS CITY — Steve Breaston isn't sure why he hasn't been getting on the field for the Chiefs.
He's asked why but hasn't really gotten a straight answer, or at least not an answer that he's comfortable sharing. The veteran wide receiver hasn't been active for the last several games, during which the Chiefs' pass offense has been mostly abysmal.
Breaston may finally get back on the field Sunday under the direst of circumstances.
The Chiefs will be without leading wide receiver Dwayne Bowe for their game at Oakland, depriving them of their biggest downfield threat and only reliable option. Bowe hurt his ribs last Sunday against Cleveland, and coach Romeo Crennel hinted he may be out the rest of the year.
That's going to put more responsibility on Breaston, Jon Baldwin and the rest of a wide receiver corps that hasn't exactly shouldered much of the burden this season.
"Those guys have to step up," Crennel said. "We're going to work during the week and we're going to see who gives us the best chance in the game, and then those guys will be active."
Deciding who will be active has suddenly become a hot topic in Kansas City.
Breaston, who caught 61 passes for the Chiefs last season, has been inactive for four of the last five games — and he says he doesn't know why. He only has seven catches for 74 yards in the games he has played, the ball going instead to a variety of other receiving targets.
"I don't understand it," Breaston said. "It's difficult. I'm just going to keep working. As difficult as my situation is, I know my teammates are going through a difficult situation with this season. It's not just about me right now. We're going through things as a team."
Breaston started 43 of the 85 games he's played in his career, and has 255 catches for more than 3,300 yards with the Arizona Cardinals and the past season-plus in Kansas City. Instead of putting him on the active list each Sunday, Crennel has used untested players such as Jamar Newsome and Josh Bellamy, who also contribute on special teams.
That's where this week's awkwardness began.
Crennel was asked Wednesday what it would take for Breaston to be active, and responded: "He needs to show that he has a great understanding of the game plan and he can execute the game plan. If he can do that, then he can be in uniform."
Yet Crennel took umbrage at the suggestion that Breaston must have been inactive because he didn't understand the game plan.
The often-amiable coach lashed out Thursday at reporters who asked him to clarify what he said the previous day, saying: "You know what, these guys have been together and hanging together all year and I know that, hey, there's nothing good to write about, but don't assume that a guy doesn't know the game plan, that a guy's not smart or anything like that.
"I make the decision about who's active and who's not active," Crennel said, "and he has not been active because it's my decision and that's what I go with. Not on the player."
Breaston said he's understood the game plan all season, and that nobody on the coaching staff has said that's the reason he's been inactive.
"I understand our offense. They may think a different way — so be it. I can't fight City Hall," he said. "I go out and work. ... Maybe wanting the ball and things like that, they get upset about that. But I understand the offense."
He'd better have a solid grasp of it this weekend.
With the injury to Bowe, the Chiefs will be missing their leading receiver and his 59 catches for 801 yards against Oakland. That's nearly a quarter of the team's receptions and yards receiving, and Bowe has three of the Chiefs' eight touchdown catches on the year.
The rest of the wide receiver corps hasn't been nearly as special.
Baldwin was the Chiefs' first-round draft pick last season, but he has just 18 catches for 261 yards and a single touchdown grab. Three of their top four receivers after Bowe are either running backs (Jamaal Charles and Shaun Draughn) or ex-running backs (Dexter McCluster).
None of them have provided much down-the-field danger.
"Any time you lose a guy like Dwayne Bowe, it's going to hurt you," Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said. "He's a special player. He really is."