Near the end of the first quarter during Saturday’s 27-20 Divisional Round playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, all of Chiefs Kingdom fell silent. The Kansas City Chiefs’ star quarterback Patrick Mahomes had rolled his ankle while taking a hit from Jacksonville pass rusher Arden Key.
A clearly-limping Mahomes managed to finish the drive — which ended with a 50-yard Harrison Butker field goal — but he then went to the locker room for X-rays. So when Kansas City’s offense returned to the field, 13-year veteran Chad Henne lined up under center.
Henne played the entire second quarter before Mahomes returned to start the second half.
“I don’t know if it’s just like riding a bike — but you’re always prepared,” Henne told reporters after the game. “I think with this offense — obviously [with] all the weapons that we have — and just staying prepared each and every moment, I think you stay ready. When your number is called, you just go in there and do what you did in practice — [and] in the meeting rooms — and just take it to the game.”
Mahomes was not about to let his backup be so humble.
“He’s in the playoffs,” the league’s top star said of his backup. “He doesn’t get any reps during the week — and he prepares himself to be able to go in for stuff like that. He had a 98-yard drive — backed up [to the goal line] in a playoff game against a great opponent. To be able to drive the ball down the field [and] make some big throws versus some pressure looks?
“They brought some heat whenever he came into the game. He made some big throws and was able to get us into the end zone. That was a big point in the game, because that gave me the ability to come back [from the locker room] and rest — and wait until halftime, [when] we re-taped and did everything we could to get me ready to go in the second half.”
Mahomes’ comments gave Henne the rare opportunity to explain how he and reserve quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Chris Oladokun prepare for the week.
“Mental reps are big,” he offered. “Shane and I and Chris are always in the back when Patrick is up on offense. We’re in the back doing the drops [and] doing our run reads, as well.
“We’re always in the back doing mental reps — but at the same time, after practice, we get with a couple of receivers and we throw with them. Not that they’re the starters, but we kind of get those reps that Patrick got in practice that we’ll get in after practice.”
Leading that second-quarter touchdown drive that starting at his own two-yard line very likely eternally endeared Henne to Chiefs fans. After running back Isiah Pacheco’s 39-yard run, Travis Kelce capped the 98-yard scoring drive — the longest postseason drive in franchise history — with the tight end’s second touchdown of the day.
Tight end so nice he scored twice. @TKelce— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2023
: #JAXvsKC on NBC
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The long drive actually began with a six-yard pass to Kelce.
“They did a great job of changing field position — just like we did,” Henne said of the drive’s poor starting spot. “I think at that point, it’s just, ‘Take what they give you.’ The [first] play was a stick — I hit Kelce and kind of got us going. Then we had a nice run, and you get in a little rhythm. You kind of keep the pressure on. The biggest thing was [to] just rely on your preparation — just like you do in practice.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid knew Henne was capable of rallying his teammates.
“Everybody trusted Chad,” the coach recalled in his postgame comments. “That’s the way he handles himself — and the confidence the guys have in him. I thought they all stepped up. Chad did a nice job getting the ball out on time — and the O-line did a nice job.
“Pacheco had the long run that was beautiful. They blitzed on it, and he kind of got bumped back — and [he] kept going, like he does. Put together a nice run — a nice drive on the whole.
“The guys love Chad — and they play for him.”
Kelce concurred with his coach.
“Chad’s been nothing but the best quarterback he can be throughout it all,” said the league’s best tight end. “What I mean by that is every single day he’s preparing as if he’s the starting quarterback — as if he’s one snap away. Sure enough, you saw that today.
“To be able to come into a hostile game backed up on your two-yard line and go 98 yards on your first drive? That just shows the type of competitor he is — and how the guys rallied around him. [That was] because of how much leadership he has.”
While Henne usually finds himself helping Mahomes on the sideline, the roles were temporarily reversed on Saturday. The veteran believes the superstar crushed the performance.
“He was just telling me what I tell him,” recalled Henne. “‘Take what they give you.’ And I think, ‘Rely back on your fundamentals.’ We tell each other that all the time. He was great being there, encouraging [me] on the sideline — just like I would be.
“I always appreciate him. He’s just the ultimate competitor and teammate — and I couldn’t thank him enough.”
Mahomes stressed that Henne is proof the Chiefs are so much more than one MVP candidate.
“The team has so much belief in Chad,” he reiterated. “He’s done it before. He’s won Divisional games by coming in and playing. You saw on that 98-yard drive: he ran the offense the way the offense is supposed to be run. He threw it to the right guys — and guys stepped up and made plays.
“That’s what a great team does. It’s not about one guy. It’s about the whole team.”