Henne helps keep drive alive
Defending champs weather Mahomes’ injury to advance to third straight AFC title game
Chad Henne and the Kansas City Chiefs are moving on to the AFC championship game. Whether the Chiefs’ backup quarterback plays in that game remains to be seen — superstar starter Patrick Mahomes would have to recover from an apparent head injury to face the Buffalo Bills with a Super Bowl berth at stake — but Henne did his part Sunday after Mahomes went down to help Kansas City hold off the Cleveland Browns, 22-17, at Arrowhead Stadium.
On a third-and-14 play with two minutes left, Henne scrambled to the left and was stopped just short of a first down at the Kansas City 48-yard line. Chiefs Coach Andy Reid made a gamble by going for it on fourth down and inches, and Henne hit wide receiver Tyreek Hill for five yards and a game-clinching first down, sending the defending Super Bowl champions to their third consecutive AFC championship game.
“That’s why we love Big Red,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said of that fourthdown call, referring to Reid’s nickname. Of Mahomes’s injury, he said, “Any time any of our teammates go down, we always feel the need to step it up a notch.”
Cleveland had a chance to win despite trailing 19-3 at halftime, but the Browns did not take advantage of Karl Joseph’s interception of Henne in the end zone with just more than eight minutes left. Cleveland converted a fourth-and-1 play from its own 29 on the ensuing drive, but it faced fourth and 9 at it own 32 before punting, and it never got the ball back.
Henne took over after Mahomes was hurt on a third-quarter play in which he ran to his right, trying to gain a first down on a thirdand-1 play, before being tackled by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson. Mahomes, who injured his left foot earlier in the game, struggled to keep his balance as he got up, went to the locker room to be
checked for a concussion and was subsequently ruled out by the Chiefs.
Mahomes, who went 21 for 30 for 255 yards and a touchdown before he was injured, is “doing great right now,” Reid said after the game. “He passed all the deals he needed to pass.”
“All good brother,” Mahomes said on social media in response to a tweet from Wilson offering prayers.
Still, he must receive independent medical clearance before he is able to return to the field.
Shortly after Mahomes exited the game, with Kansas City leading 19-10, Reid went for it on fourth and 1 and was rewarded when running back Darrel Williams gained 12 yards on a carry. Reid took criticism from online observers for the play on which Mahomes was hurt, but his
other decisions, particularly at the end of the game, paid off.
The Chiefs will be the first AFC team to host a conference championship game three years in a row. The Philadelphia Eagles did it in the NFC from 2002 through 2004 - when they were coached by Reid.
The Browns, who last week won their first playoff game since January 1995, were hoping to reach the
AFC championship game for the first time since January 1990.
Sunday, Cleveland Coach Kevin Stefanski was left to rue a sequence in which the Browns fumbled out of the end zone for a costly touchback near the end of the first half and then could not stop the Chiefs from driving for a field goal and a 19-3 lead as the second quarter expired. On the first possession of the second half, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who finished 23 for 37 for 204 yards and a touchdown, threw his only interception.
Kansas City blew its chance to take advantage of the interception, which Mathieu returned to Cleveland’s 19-yard line, when Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker missed a 33-yard field goal attempt. “It’s obviously disappointing, Stefanski said of that sequence. “. . . I point the finger at me.”
The Browns’ fumble occurred when wide receiver Rashard Higgins caught the ball, headed upfield and dived for the end zone but was hit by Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen before he crossed the goal line.
The game looked like it might not be close at that point, especially given that Kansas City’s dangerous attack had come out hot despite resting most of its starters in Week 17 before a first-round by. The Chiefs showed no rust in driving for touchdowns on their first two possessions, but they settled for field goal attempts on their next four drives, with Butker making three and missing one.
Kansas City’s final field goal ended the drive in which Mahomes was injured and made it 22-10. Cleveland answered with a touchdown drive punctuated by a 3-yard scoring run by former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt.
At that point, after an 18play drive, the Browns appeared to have time to complete the comeback, whereas the Chiefs were left to hope that Henne could at least get some first downs and help drain the clock.
An 11-year veteran in his second season with the Chiefs, Henne did just that, albeit while throwing an interception. Now he and the rest of the NFL wait to find out whether Mahomes will start against the Bills.
“We’ll see how he is [Monday],” Reid said, “but right now he’s doing good.”