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Kansas City holds off Browns despite losing Patrick Mahomes to injury to reach AFC title game

Kansas City quarterback Chad Henne celebrates after a

Kansas City 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.  Credit: AP/Charlie Riedel

With a trip to the AFC Championship Game in sight, all Kansas City needed to do was convert a first down off a third-and-14 from its own 35 to beat the Browns on Sunday. That’s when its quarterback took over.

First he scrambled for 13 1⁄2 yards, diving headfirst into tacklers to pick up every inch he could.

"That’s all heart," safety Tyrann Mathieu said of the run. "Those are the moments that lift teams."

Then, on fourth-and-1 from the Kansas City 48, like a hypnotist waving a pocket watch, he lulled the Browns into thinking he would call a timeout before snapping the ball and firing a pinpoint 5-yard completion that sealed the 22-17 victory.

"We loved the play, loved the matchup," said the quarterback, giving the majority of the credit to receiver Tyreek Hill for making the catch.

It was vintage Patrick Mahomes. Except it wasn’t.

Mahomes, the candidate for a second MVP award and superstar quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champs, was back in the locker room at the time, having been diagnosed with a concussion. In his place was 13-year veteran Chad Henne, a guy who had never thrown a postseason pass before Sunday. And while Henne certainly was not as dynamic and productive as Mahomes usually is, on those two plays, he earned himself a spot in Kansas City lore.

It wasn’t long after the game that social media was flooded with hashtagged puns such as #HenneGiven Sunday and #HenneThingIsPossible (the latter of which was posted by Mahomes himself). Henne’s teammates didn’t need to tag him. They saw him and thanked him in person.

As defensive end Frank Clark said, when a team faces adversity, the cream rises to the top. "Shout-out to Chad," he said. "He was the cream today, baby!"

Top-seeded Kansas City will host No. 2 Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, and it seems as if Mahomes might be able to be ready.

"He’s doing great right now," coach Andy Reid said. "That’s a real positive. He passed all the deals that he needed to pass. So we’ll see where it goes from here."

Mahomes will have to be cleared by an independent neurologist and go through the league’s concussion protocol.

He’ll be monitored closely for symptoms in the coming days.

Already slowed a bit by an apparent toe injury suffered earlier in the day, Mahomes was knocked from the game midway through the third quarter. On a third-and-1, he kept the ball on an option run and was tackled around the head by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson.He tried to get to his feet but clearly was woozy. His knees buckled underneath him and he was braced up by lineman Mike Remmers before he walked off the field. Mahomes eventually jogged to the locker room.

Henne replaced him and finished the drive, which resulted in a 33-yard field goal and a 22-10 lead.

The Browns scored a touchdown on a 3-yard run by Kareem Hunt to cap an 18-play, 8:17 drive and make it 22-17 with 11:07 left. When Henne threw an awful interception in the end zone, the Browns had a chance to drive and take the lead. Instead, they punted on fourth-and-9 from their 32 with 4:09 left and never saw the ball again.

It was just one of several calls or plays that hurt the Browns, including one late in the second quarter. With Cleveland down 16-3, Baker Mayfield hit Rashard Higgins inside the 5. The wide receiver tried to extend the football for the pylon, but safety Daniel Sorensen drilled him to force a fumble (with an uncalled illegal use of the helmet) just before the ball reached the goal line. The football went into the end zone and then bounced out of bounds, resulting in a touchback for Kansas City.

Mahomes then drove the offense to the 10 for a field goal and a 19-3 halftime lead.

The Browns closed to 19-10 in the third quarter on Mayfield’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry. With Mahomes on the field, that lead must have felt secure to Kansas City. When he left the field a little later with that same score, though?

"The guys not getting down when Pat went down, that’s easier said than done," Reid said. "It’s the will to win. You have to be able to reach deep during the tough times and pull that out. If the coaches are flinching, if the leaders are flinching, it’s not going to happen."

Nobody flinched.

Least of all Henne.

"Once I got in that huddle, everybody had confidence in me, they were pushing for me, and they had my back," he said. "This is a great team."

Even, it turns out, without its greatest player.

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