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The Heroes of 2020
Take that, Ohio.
Chad Henne might have infamously gone 0-4 against Ohio State years ago at Michigan, but he broke millions of Ohioans’ hearts on Sunday.
In relief of concussed Patrick Mahomes — in the second of two weekend AFC divisional playoff games — the 35-year-old quarterback made a handful of remarkably clutch plays in the final minutes, sealing the Kansas City Chiefs’ 22-17 home-field win over the luck-starved Cleveland Browns.
These might stand as Henne’s only memorable moments in an otherwise forgettable 13-year pro career.
Next Sunday, Andy Reid’s Chiefs for the third consecutive year will serve as host of the AFC championship game, this time against the Buffalo Bills (6:30 p.m. EST). The winner advances to Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 7.
Mahomes had staked the Chiefs out to a 19-3 halftime lead over an under-performing Browns team. Along the way Mahomes hurt his left toe, and at times was limping in visible pain.
After quarterback Baker Mayfield led the Browns to within 19-10 late in the third quarter, Mahomes ran an option keeper to the right and was neck-tied and tackled hard — but legally — by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson.
After remaining down for a moment, when Mahomes tried to stand up his legs turned to jelly. Teammates caught him and held him up before he crumbled.
In an extreme TV closeup, Mahomes looked out of it.
Last year’s Super Bowl MVP was helped straight into Kansas City’s sideline medical tent for a quick concussion assessment. Then he headed straight to the locker-room for a full, detailed concussion assessment — all per NFL protocols. When the latter happens, a player almost never returns to action.
Soon it was announced Mahomes was indeed concussed and would not return.
That left it to Henne, mostly an NFL backup since Miami drafted him out of Michigan in 2008, to hold the day — and maybe save it.
Henne completed a short pass to set up Harrison Butker’s 33-yard field goal to put K.C. up 22-10.
Mayfield then led the Browns on their best drive of the day, 75 yards in 18 plays to pull to within 22-17, with oodles of time left — 11:07.
For the Chiefs to hang on and win, Henne was going to have to do much more than just hand off. Reid knew it, and empowered him.
On the first play after the kickoff he called for Henne to throw a deep, back-shoulder fade to Tyreek Hill, who made a circus catch for 23 yards.
On 3rd-and-5 Henne then hit Travis Kelce for 24 yards more. But then Reid asked too much of Henne: He was too long on a long bomb to Demarcus Robinson, and safety Karl Joseph easily intercepted for a touchdback.
Reid later took all the blame for that turnover.
The Chiefs defence then held Mayfield and crew to just 12 yards before forcing a punt — and largely because of Henne, the Browns never got the ball back.
On 3rd-and-4 Henne hit running back Darrel Williams for five yards. After taking a sack at the two-minute warning, Henne dropped back to throw on 3rd-and-14. Would Reid empower him to throw deep?
We’ll never know. Henne didn’t immediately find anyone open, and pulled down the ball to run.
Understand the 6-foot-3, 222-pounder is not a running quarterback; he’s classic drop-back guy all the way. Yet he showed some wheels with the left side of the field wide open, and as he neared the line to gain he sold out and dived.
“This team has given me so much, so I put my body out there for them,” Henne said.
A measurement showed he was just short. Fourth-and-inches.
But the ball was only at the Kansas City 48, with 1:14 left. Would Reid punt? No way.
While appearing to line up in such a way (five-wide, no-backs, shotgun) as to lull the Browns into believing the Chiefs were only trying to lure them offside, and would never snap it, in fact Henne got the ball.
He instantly sprinted right and hit an open Hill, in the short flat, for a game-sealing five-yard completion.
Kneel-down, ball game.
“I’m proud of Chad and the way he handled everything,” Reid said. “I think we’ll all remember that run, and that dive, and that throw.”
Why did Reid have so much trust in Henne to pass on that decisive fourth down, when before this month he’d thrown three NFL passes since 2014?
“Listen, when you’re around him you just know,” Reid said. “I’m glad he had an opportunity to play a week or two ago there. I think that helped him … Everybody has full confidence in him. You saw how the team reacted.
“We go through those plays on Saturday night — ‘4th-and-1 to win the game, what do you want?’ … There was no doubt with anybody … (We had) a play ready to go that everybody liked. There was no flinch on the play: ‘This is what it is. Here we go. Chad? We all knew it. Let’s go.’”
As for the condition of Mahomes afterward, Reid said:
“He got hit in the back of his head, and kind of knocked the wind out, and everything else with it. He’s doing great right now, which is a real positive … We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
The concussed are typically told by doctors to rest and avoid all electronics. Yet minutes after the game Mahomes tweeted, “#HenneThingIsPossible.”
Henne’s teammates indeed loved to see him be the star, for once.
“One of the things I notice about him … he’s a true professional,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “He’s always ready. Monday through Friday, he prepares every day like he’s going to play that week.”
While delirious Chiefs fans on Twitter were wondering whether Henne had earned his way onto Arrowhead Stadium’s Ring of Honor, millions of Ohio football fans had to be wondering how the hell Chad friggin’ Henne — the only starting quarterback in the history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry to lose four times, 2004-07 — had finally stabbed them in the heart.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021