Chiefs’ Chad Henne goes from backup QB to playoff stage

The Big Game

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne celebrates after a run during the second half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Chad Henne came off the bench cold in the heat of a tense playoff game and delivered the game-sealing plays for Kansas City in his most consequential performance in a win since 2013.

Henne became just the latest understudy quarterback to deliver a memorable performance in the postseason when he relieved an injured Patrick Mahomes and closed out a 22-17 win over Cleveland on Sunday that sent the defending champion Chiefs into the AFC championship game.

If Mahomes remains in concussion protocol and can’t start this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Henne will get the nod as he tries to follow in the footsteps of other playoff fill-ins at quarterback.

The most recent success story came three years ago, when Nick Foles replaced an injured Carson Wentz in December and led the Philadelphia Eagles on a magical postseason run that culminated in their only Super Bowl title.

Jeff Hostetler blazed a similar path in 1990 with the New York Giants when he took over for an injured Phil Simms late in the season and also won the championship.

“Everyone had jumped off the bandwagon,” Hostetler recalled three years ago when Foles was making his run. “We were completely shot as a team. That was the outside looking in. Inside where we were at, we just rallied the wagons. It was us versus the world. We just rallied around each other and it showed.”

There are others as well, including Earl Morrall keeping the 1972 Dolphins perfect long enough for starter Bob Griese to finish the job in the Super Bowl, and Frank Reich staging the epic playoff comeback against Houston 28 years ago while Jim Kelly was out injured.

Here’s a look at some of the most memorable playoff performances by backup quarterbacks:

TOM MATTE: The Baltimore running back was thrust into emergency quarterback duty late in the 1965 season after Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo went down with injuries. Matte started the season finale against the Rams, rushing for 99 yards and throwing two incompletions. He got the nod again the following week in a playoff game against Green Bay with a limited number of plays on a wrist band. He went 5 for 12 for 40 yards and ran for 57 more in a 13-10 loss to the Packers.

EARL MORRALL: Morrall was in his 17th season as an NFL journeyman, who had lost to Joe Namath and the Jets in Super Bowl III and was a backup on a champion in Baltimore two years later. He joined the Dolphins in 1972 as Griese’s backup on a $100 waiver claim that proved to be a bargain when Griese got hurt in Week 5. Morrall started the next 11 games for the NFL’s only perfect team, leading playoff wins over Cleveland and Pittsburgh when he threw a TD pass to Larry Csonka in the AFC title game. Griese returned for the Super Bowl and completed the 17-0 season.

JEFF HOSTETLER: Hostetler had started just two games in almost seven full seasons for the Giants when Simms injured his foot in Week 14. After starting that season with 10 straight wins, the Giants lost three out of four and were mostly written off as a contender when Simms got hurt. But Hostetler managed to lead the Giants to two wins to end the regular season, a lopsided playoff opener over Chicago, then upsets over two-time defending champion San Francisco in the NFC title game (15-13 on five field goals) and Buffalo (20-19) in the Super Bowl. He threw three TD passes with no interceptions in the playoff run.

FRANK REICH: Two years after losing to Hostetler, the Bills relied on a backup to make it to their third consecutive Super Bowl. Starter Jim Kelly injured his knee in the regular-season finale, forcing Reich to take over in the playoffs. He led an epic comeback from a 35-3 deficit to beat Houston in the wild-card round and then Pittsburgh in the next round, throwing six TD passes with only one INT in the wins. Kelly returned to the AFC title game and started the Super Bowl before getting hurt again in the 52-17 loss to Dallas, which Reich finished.

NICK FOLES: Reich was an assistant in Philadelphia 25 years later when Wentz went down with a knee injury that looked like it would derail the Eagles season. Foles stepped in and didn’t do much in the final three regular season games and the playoff opener over Atlanta. But he put together one of the greatest two-game stretches in postseason history to deliver the Eagles a title. He threw for 725 yards and six touchdowns in wins over Minnesota in the NFC title game and New England in the Super Bowl. He also caught a TD pass in the 41-33 win against the Patriots on a trick play known as the “Philly Special.”

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