In the second quarter of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 43-16 Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs were receiving a kickoff with only an eight-point lead. Wide receiver and returner Byron Pringle awaited his only opportunity of the game to advance the ball — and he took full advantage.
Don’t blink. Pringle is gone (via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/kQEPdIic8d— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) October 25, 2020
His 102-yard touchdown return was the longest scoring play of the NFL season.
The return was the second big play of the day on special teams for Pringle. Earlier in the first half, he pinned Denver’s offense at the 1-yard line, securing a ball and saving Tommy Townsend’s kick from being a touchback.
Obviously, special teams coordinator Dave Toub was a big fan of Pringle’s performance.
“What a day he had on special teams,” Toub said of Pringle’s game during his press conference on Thursday. “That kickoff return was something else, but that [downed punt] was a big play too. It was a great punt by Tommy, that ball could’ve easily hit the ground and shot forward... Pringle needed to be Johnny on the spot, that thing could have rolled into the end zone. He was right there, the returner tried to block him, but he beat the block and made a huge play for us, pinned them back for our defense.”
Toub continued his praise of the third-year wide receiver’s breakout day in the return game.
“What a day he had with the 102-yard return too,” Toub continued. “The way he hit that thing, he hit it with a lot of courage, confidence, and a lot of praise should go out to the guys blocking for him too. They did a great job blocking, there was a lot of good blocks on that play and it all came together.”
The kick return was Pringle’s only return of 2020 — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t used to it. He had a few in 2019, plus Pringle was a kick returner in college at Kansas State. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of his two seasons there.
While wide receiver Mecole Hardman has taken all of the returnable kickoffs this season, Toub has been waiting for the right opportunity to give Pringle a shot.
“We’ve been working Pringle in practice, and we’ve been looking for a time to be able to throw him back there,” Toub explained. “This was a perfect scenario because of the cold weather, we’d have a chance to get one. When you have a big guy running fast at you, from my experience on the kickoff team, not a lot of people want to jump in front of a big guy running real fast in the cold... He hit that thing 90 miles per hour, and you saw when he cut back, he split two defenders really. To try and make an arm tackle when he’s a big guy running fast like that, it’s really hard to do. Once he made the cutback, it was over pretty much cause he’s got enough speed to run away from everybody.”
After scoring a significant touchdown on his first return of the season, Toub was asked if the kick-return rotation would involve more of Pringle.
“There’s no question.” Toub answered with zero hesitation. “The way he hit it, he has a skill there. We knew he had the skill, but once you get one under your belt, you’re hungry for that next one. The guys want to block for him, it’s just a snow ball thing so we want to get it going again.”
It’s obvious that Pringle and Hardman have different styles of play. The contrasts between their skill sets may be one reason Pringle could see more opportunities.
“We’ve been trying to get Mecole to be the guy to hit it up in there, but we have to design our returns around him,” Toub revealed. “Give him returns that fit his style, and give Pringle returns that fit his style, which is that north and south, get the double team, let him make one cut and hit it.”
Against Denver, Pringle only saw his opportunities on special teams. He did play 61% of the offense’s snaps but failed to receive a pass target. He’s caught all three of the passes that have been thrown his way this year, and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy told reporters he isn’t shocked with the impact Pringle has made with such few chances.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Bieniemy stated. “Pringle has been a hard-working kid, he was right down the road at K-State. We knew exactly what Pringle could bring to the table. He works his tail off each and every day, he’s a smart kid, and he’s a kid that also understands that he has to make the most of every opportunity when presented. When Pringle is out there, there’s a great deal of trust. We trust exactly what he’s going to do and we know exactly what we’re going to get from him.”
Pringle has seen more offensive snaps than the previous week in each of the last three games — although garbage time against the Broncos affected his snap count. With wide receiver Sammy Watkins still sidelined at practice, Pringle will be expected to continue making plays when his number is called — whether that’s on offense or on special teams.