KANSAS CITY, Missouri. The experience is evident in the salt that sprinkles Chiefs quarterback Chad Henn’s beard.
The 37-year-old journeyman has been in the league for nearly 15 years, his days as a starter in Miami and Jacksonville long gone. For the past five years, Henne has been little more than a backup quarterback for Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, his job being to hold the pads and cheer on the players, not throw any passes.
It would be easy to become smug for all this time. However, the consummate pro has learned to be ready for anything, and anything happened in the first half of Saturday’s playoff game against the Jaguars.
Forced onto the field when Mahomes injured his right ankle, Henne responded by leading the Chiefs in a 98-yard touchdown that not only prevented Jacksonville from taking control but ultimately ensured winning edge with a 27-20 win who promoted Kansas City to its fifth consecutive AFC Championship game.
“Of course, the nerves are on edge,” Henne said later, “but once you get into the game and start, it’s like repetition. Not that I’ve never done this before. I’ve played enough games. When the opportunity presents itself, I will be ready.”
Mahomes is back from the break to see it through and he’s set to start the AFC title game next week. But Henne has proven once again the importance of a capable backup quarterback, the often thankless job usually done by underdog starts, players long out of their prime, or young prospects not yet ready to lead a team.
Henn fits into that uniform, and here he is, watching from the sidelines in the sleet and snow on Saturday night as Mahomes was dragged onto the turf The Jaguars overtake the Arden Key rusherwhose weight rests entirely on the MVP candidate’s ankle.
Mahomes stood up slowly, barely able to put pressure on him as a nervous silence fell over Arrowhead Stadium. He gutted three more games to finish the first quarter, then two more to score field goals before Chiefs coach Andy Reed cornered him on the touchline and gave his star an ultimatum.
“I thought I could get through this,” Mahomes said, “and he said, ‘I’m not putting you back in, so you can go and get an x-ray, and then if it’s negative or something like that, I bring you back.”
So, throwing his winter coat on the ground in desperation, Mahomes made his way down the tunnel to the Kansas City locker room.
Henne changed his baseball cap to a football helmet and entered the field.
The Jaguars gave him no help, supporting the Chiefs to their own 2 with a punt. But the confidence Reid and offensive coordinator Erik Beniemi had in him was evident from their first play signal: a pass from his own end zone.
Henne completed it to Travis Kelsey, one of 14 of the night. He then hit Kadarius Toni later on the drive and found Kelsey twice more, one of whom was squashed late by Key and was penalized for a personal foul.
On the 12th and final play, Henne hit an All-Pro tight end for the last time and scored a touchdown.
“To get into a hostile game, backed up by your 2, go 98 yards,” Kelsey said, “it just shows what kind of opponent he is.”
It’s not the first time Henne has saved the season. In another division game two years ago, when Mahomes was forced into concussion protocol, he guided the Chiefs through the last two quarters to a 22–17 victory over the Browns.
“This is not a one-man show,” Henne said. “There are a lot of great guys on our offense who really stepped up and helped me.”
Kelsey topped the list. But seventh-round pick Isaiah Pacheco spent most of his 95 yards on Henne’s drive, and his offensive line didn’t let one of the league’s best defensemen touch him.
They may have been inspired by Henne. Or reassured by the fact that he was joking in the crowd.
“I don’t know if it was a joke,” he said. “I looked the guys in the eye, cited some of the words in the insults we do, and just really got their attention and knew that you believe in them, as well as those who believe in me.”
Henne was ready to play until the end. But after Mahomes’ x-ray came back negative and he proved to Reed that he was agile enough to defend himself, he successfully returned to the game.
As Henne watched the game from the side again, the All-Pro quarterback led the Chiefs to the end of the road to victory.
Mahomes was scheduled to have an MRI on Sunday but promised to be ready for next week’s AFC Championship game against the winner of the Bengals-Bills game. However, you can bet one thing: Henne will be ready too.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL.
Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.