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Chiefs’ alternative weapons are stepping up in a big way

Mahomes, Kelce and Hill have led the way — but Kansas City’s other offensive skill players have played a big role this season.

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There’s no denying that the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense is lead by three standout players. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill are perennial Pro Bowl players who are always in the mix as All-Pro selections — and are now leading the team to a fourth consecutive AFC Championship against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

In last Sunday’s soon-to-be-classic 42-36 overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills, those three accounted for 57% of the total offensive yards. Chiefs fans will never forget the 64-yard go-ahead (or as we believed at the time, game-winning) touchdown by Hill, the three of them linking up on the final two offensive plays in regulation to set up a Harrison Butker field goal — and finally, the game-winning touchdown to Kelce in overtime.

All of them came up big — exactly when the team needed them to be big.

But they weren’t the only ones who contributed to the team’s victory. Yes... they accounted for the lion’s share of the offense. And yes... the defense had account for them in their game plans. But the Chiefs’ secondary weapons also stepped up.

And it’s been that way all season.

Throughout 2021, Mahomes, Hill and Kelce have accounted for 41% of the total scrimmage yards. Behind them was running back Darrel Williams, who was inactive Sunday with a toe injury. After Williams, the next three contributors were wide receiver Mecole Hardman, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and wide receiver Byron Pringle. Those three accounted for 28% of Sunday’s total yardage — each of them contributing in different ways.

The first standout moment was Byron Pringle’s second-quarter touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 14-7 lead.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“I knew I had to take my time getting over there,” recounted Pringle while speaking to reporters on Wednesday. “I just tried to lull my man to sleep and beat him with speed to the back pipeline — and that’s what I did. Once I saw Patrick Mahomes release it, I just went and attacked it out of the air — instead of letting it fall down [where] the defender [could] make a play on it.”

Edwards-Helaire made his return to action after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 16. With his first carry, there was a noticeable burst as he ran 22 yards to set up the Chiefs just outside of the red zone. Edwards-Helaire finished the game with 69 scrimmage yards on nine touches — and averaged 8.6 yards per carry on his seven rushes.

After getting fewer snaps than Jerick McKinnon in his return, the second-year back pushed back on the idea that he has any jealousy toward his teammates.

“Nah man, it’s a running back room and a running back group,” he said on Wednesday. “That’s what we do. We knew from the beginning, — from training camp — it was one of those things. Coach [Andy] Reid and I, EB [Eric Bieniemy] and I, we as an offense, have multiple conversations — and even having conversations with the running backs in the room, from Jet [Jerick McKinnon] to DG [Derrick Gore] to Darrel, it’s just one of those things we knew from the times that I wasn’t playing or Jet wasn’t playing. Jet was on IR and then it was DG and Darrel’s time. So, it’s not one of those things that you look and get envy at. Right now, our goal is to win a championship. That’s it.”

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Hardman also contributed throughout Sunday’s game. He made the most of his three touches, scoring on a 25-yard jet sweep that showed patience in allowing his blockers to set up before sprinting towards the pylon. And in overtime, he caught a shallow crossing route for 26 yards to set up the final play of the game.

“I’m just more so happy to get opportunities and get a chance to touch the football and make plays happen,” said Hardman on Monday. “When he dials up things up like the jet sweeps or the pop passes or the screen plays — or anything to get me the ball quickly — I enjoy those moments.

“I know when I get the ball, I can make things happen in a hurry. I’m happy he’s allowing me to be part of this team and be part of the game plan to help this team out — and giving me opportunities. As long as he does that, I’m going to just make sure that he’s right by giving me those opportunities.”

It’s been a complete team effort to find the weapons behind Kelce and Hill. Despite preseason assertions to the contrary, the Chiefs haven’t needed just one player to fill that role. Instead, they have taken advantage of a diversity of traits among multiple players to make the team’s offense just as potent as it has been previous seasons.