The phrase "next man up" is commonly used in the NFL and in every other sport but on Sunday, it meant everything to the Kansas City Chiefs when disaster struck.
In the third quarter of their 22-17 divisional-round win over the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Patrick Mahomes had to be helped off the field after taking a big hit and losing his balance upon standing up. Backup quarterback Chad Henne entered the game for Mahomes, who did not return to the contest after being downgraded to out.
Henne finished the game with 66 passing yards and an interception on eight attempts. He also ran for 13 yards on a crucial third-and 14 which set the team up for a game-clinching pass on the next down which iced the game. After the final whistle blew, it was tight end Travis Kelce who praised Henne for his preparation and subsequent performance.
"First of all, he's a professional," Kelce said. "He comes to work every single day knowing that he's just a snap away from calling plays and being out there leading us to victory. And second, he's a competitor. That guy, no matter what it is, he's fired up and ready to go."
Kelce, who led the Chiefs in receiving yards with 110 on eight receptions, knows the team can respond to adversity. This wasn't the first time they had dealt with a Mahomes injury, as he missed nearly three full games last season with a dislocated kneecap. The message remained the same once the best player in football went down this time around: find a way to get the job done.
"Nothing changed man, nothing changed," Kelce said. "Chad came in and uplifted us, we uplifted him and we just rallied together. That's what this team did — offensively, defensively, and on special teams. We circled the wagon, got a little tighter as a group and found a way to win against a good football team."
Mahomes' status for next week's AFC Championship Game is up in the air, but the Chiefs' confidence in one another certainly isn't. The game easily could have gotten out of hand without stellar leadership, and that applies to everyone on the field.
Thanks to Henne being prepared and the players around him stepping up, things remained on track. It was an unexpected challenge, but the Chiefs were ready for it.