One of the few bright spots in the Kansas City Chiefs' 36-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 was yet another excellent game from Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who passed for 343 yards (with three touchdowns and an interception) and a superb passer rating of 131.5.
But unlike during the Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns, he did it without leaning so heavily on wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The team's two leading receivers had combined for 22 of Mahomes' 34 pass targets against Cleveland, but just 12 of his 30 targets the following week. The rest were shared between seven other receivers, including Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle. The receivers not named Hill and Kelce accumulated 220 yards (and a pair of touchdowns) on 14 receptions.
"It's a tribute to those guys and how they handle that," head coach Andy Reid told reporters on Wednesday. "I mean, they did a nice job with it. So if they're going to roll coverage to Tyreek Hill, then you have opportunities there."
That's precisely what happened. In contrast to the Browns game — in which Cleveland had largely left the middle of the field open, allowing Hill and Kelce to raise havoc on their own — the Ravens kept Hill locked down for most of the game. Instead of the 197 yards, he earned on 11 receptions in Week 1, Hill was held to just 14 yards on three catches in Week 2.
Mahomes said that having so many talented receivers at his disposal is part of what makes the Kansas City offense so effective.
"It just puts defenses in binds," he explained during his turn with the press on Wednesday. "It's a thing when you have other guys [who] can make things happen. It puts them in a kind of predicament: 'Do we want to cover both of them and leave these [other] guys on islands? Or do we want to play our defense and do what we do?'
"So having the ability to get it to everybody — and they can all break it for a touchdown every single play — is definitely something that will help the offense."
Just as he did last week — when there was concern that the Chiefs' offense would stall if Hill or Kelce were injured or rendered ineffective by opposing defenses — Mahomes backed up his backup receivers.
"I've always been confident in those guys," he declared. "I see the work they put in. I see the talent that they have. Obviously, we have these great talents with Travis and Tyreek — [who] are all-time talents — so we get them the ball and let them make plays. But we've got guys all across the board [who] can make plays on this team."
One of them is Pringle. On Sunday, he scored a 40-yard touchdown on a pass that he caught just six yards downfield, muscling his way past the second-level defenders — and then turning on the jets to outrun the rest.
"He's obviously a very physical receiver," noted Mahomes. "You see how he does on special teams and things like that. But he makes those tough catches — and I think you all saw: I mean, he's fast. He can go — and he can run when he's in space. He's come along a lot in these last three years of learning the offense — and getting himself a role in this offense — and now that he'll get more and more opportunity, I'm sure he'll make more and more plays."
"He's been doing good all the way through camp," said the head coach. "And he's stayed healthy here — knock on wood there, but he's done a nice job with that. [He] worked hard to get the opportunities that he's had. I think the more he plays, the better he'll be. [He'll] keep growing."
But it's probably not realistic to think that Pringle will muscle his way into a spot alongside Hill in the starting lineup. Now in his fourth year on the team — the first of which he spent on injured reserve after a preseason injury — the skills that the former undrafted free agent from Kansas State brings to the table are well known to the coaches and front office.
Yet to replace the production of the now-departed Sammy Watkins, the team still went after free-agent wideouts like JuJu Smith-Schuster during the offseason. Those kinds of moves probably weren't easy for players like Pringle to watch — but just like Mecole Hardman last week, Pringle says that's not his focus.
"I want to win at the end of the day," Pringle told reporters on Wednesday. "If the coaches put me in, obviously they see that I can contribute to the team — coming out with a 'dub' at the end of the day — so I go out there and don't make them feel like they did the wrong move by putting me in that position. I go out there with a high motor and try to dominate my man."
Pringle said he brings a particular attitude to his play — the "1-0 mentality" — in which the main goal is the next game, the next goal and the next task at hand.
"If the other 10 guys have that same mentality," assured Pringle, "we'll come out with a 'dub.' If I'm pulling my weight and the other 10 are pulling their weight, we'll come out with a 'dub.' I just have that '1-0' mentality."
But it's not just an attitude. He also said he moves (and feels) better than he has in previous seasons, crediting an offseason weight loss.
"It seems like the offseason paid off," he said. "[I need to] just go out and execute. [When] they put me out there, I'm going to execute at a high level — and just be me. There's no pressure, you know? Just be calm and relaxed — but apply pressure the whole four quarters that I'm in there."
If that works out as it did on Sunday, Pringle probably won't be the biggest cog in Kansas City's offensive machine — but he'll be a valuable one.