The Wrap - Division Weekend

The NFL playoffs have often thrown up unlikely heroes over the years with backups being thrust to the fore. The likes of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree are a couple who spring to mind.

While the stage was bigger for Foles and Tyree as their heroics came in Super Bowl wins, the rescue job performed by Chad Henne for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night was just as notable. And it keeps the defending champions on course for a second straight Super Bowl crown… just!

I first met Henne in the summer of 2008 when putting together an educational website for the NFL. He was very generous with his time, spending 30 minutes or so on the practice field of the Miami Dolphins going through the drills and skills required to be an NFL quarterback.

After that initial spell with Miami - where I actually once wrote an article wondering if he could fill the large shoes left by the great Dan Marino – Henne moved on to Jacksonville where he started for the Jags in the 2012 and 2013 seasons and it was a rough time for the franchise (Jacksonville went 6-26 in those two years).

We worked together at a couple of fan events around the 2013 London game between the Jags and San Francisco 49ers and then Henne kind of disappeared off my radar. I didn't see him again until Opening Night at last year's Super Bowl and I thought about how he was in a great semi-retirement spot, operating as a security blanket in reserve to the great Patrick Mahomes.

Well, the security blanket needed to put out a potential fire on Sunday night when Mahomes was knocked out with a concussion and the Cleveland Browns pulled to within five points in the fourth quarter.

Kansas City's season was on the line. Mahomes was in the locker room. The Browns were buoyant. And Henne was not that far removed from an ill-advised interception he threw up to Karl Joseph. Third and 14 on his own 35-yard line. Henne had just taken a sack and it looked like he was going to be in a situation where the ball was going back to the Browns with about a minute on the clock and a chance to win the game on a final drive led by the impressive and in-form Baker Mayfield.

Henne had other ideas and was determined to enjoy his moment in the spotlight. He scrambled away from pressure on third down and dived for what looked like an unlikely first down. The officials ruled him to be half a yard short and I expected the Chiefs to punt given they were at their own 48-yard line.

Then the genius of Andy Reid and the confidence of a veteran quarterback like Henne combined to lead Kansas City to the next round of the playoffs and a third straight AFC Championship Game.

Reid and Henne let the play clock tick all the way down to five seconds and I definitely felt like Kansas City were just trying to draw the Browns offside. But Henne took the snap, half-rolled to his right and calmly connected with Tyreek Hill for the game-winning first down.

Heading into Sunday night, our chatter was about big-name superstars such as Mahomes, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. But Henne proved to be the unlikeliest of heroes and has kept his defending champs alive and on the road to the Super Bowl.

Who's Hot…

Green Bay's Offense… Taking on the number one defense at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, the Green Bay Packers looked very calm and effective on the offensive side of the ball. Rather than look for big play after big play, Aaron Rodgers methodically shredded the Los Angeles Rams on his way to 296 passing yards, two touchdown strikes and a rushing score. The ground game was outstanding, picking up 188 rushing yards and the threat of the run set up a huge 58-yard touchdown strike to Allen Lazard that ended the contest. The Packers are humming.

Buffalo's Defense… I did not see Saturday's excellent showing against the Baltimore Ravens coming. The Bills flew to the football all night long in their 17-3 win, shutting down the threat of Lamar Jackson. The Bills sacked Jackson four times and held him to just 34 rushing yards. That was one of the bigger surprises of the weekend because I had some concerns about that side of the ball.

Leonard Fournette… Tampa Bay's rushing attack was ranked 28th in the NFL during the regular season and Leonard Fournette was not scaring very many defenses. He rushed for 367 yards at an average of 3.8 yards per rush but is warming up nicely in the playoffs. Fournette gained 132 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown in the Wild Card round at Washington and added 107 scrimmage yards and another score on 22 touchdowns in New Orleans. Fournette is giving the Bucs some much-needed balance at the business end of the year.

Who's Not…

Drew Brees… In what was most likely the last game of his glittering career, Drew Brees went out stone cold in New Orleans' 30-20 loss to Tampa Bay. The sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer threw for just 134 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a rating of 38.1. It was not the way any of us wanted to see Brees go out – he simply cannot stretch the field any longer and it's time he heads from the field to the television studio. Farewell to one of the very best to ever do it.

Jared Goff… What will the legacy of the Los Angeles Rams' quarterback be by the time he runs off an NFL field for the last time 10 or 12 years from now? Will Goff even be a Rams quarterback? That is highly doubtful. Goff was not terrible in Green Bay on Saturday, but he was also far from inspiring as he threw for 174 yards and one touchdown. The comments of head coach Sean McVay were concerning, if I'm Goff. McVay said Goff is his "quarterback for right now." Hardly a ringing endorsement and this passer enters 2021 on shaky ground.

Lamar Jackson… I mentioned Jackson's rushing totals earlier and there is no doubt he was kept in check by Buffalo's defense. But he didn't just fail on the ground. Lamar failed to make an impact through the air as he threw for just 162 yards and no touchdowns, throwing a game-deciding pick six before heading to the locker room with a concussion. Lamar is now 30-7 in the regular season and 1-3 in the playoffs.

The Fast Five…

  1. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes in Sunday's win over New Orleans, marking the ninth game in a row where he has tossed at least two scores. But that is nowhere near the most remarkable stat for this ageless wonder who is 60 minutes from yet another Super Bowl! Brady will play in his 14th AFC or NFC Championship Game on Sunday. If you add up years where Brady has been the full-time starter and excluding the 2008 season when he tore his knee ligaments, TB 12 has played in 19 seasons and reached the semi-finals 14 times – a success rate of 73.7 percent.
  2. Mahomes looked in a bad and worrying way after being hit by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson in the third quarter of Sunday's contest at Arrowhead Stadium. It's been a while since I've seen a player get up on such rubbery legs in the NFL and I worry about his status for the AFC title game. Some reports out of KC suggest it was a neck and a nerve issue rather than a concussion. Let's hope he makes it all the way back for this coming weekend because the playoffs are more fun when the big stars can take centre stage.
  3. Aaron Donald was on the field for the Rams on Saturday, but he did not look like the defensive menace who has dominated the NFL for years. Nursing a significant rib injury, Donald looked a shadow of his usual self as he recorded just one tackle. That was such a shame given how great he has been for the Rams.
  4. The Browns gave a real scare to the Chiefs on Sunday night and I think they can continue their growth in 2021. Don't forget that this team gets Odell Beckham Jr. back next season and they now have some experience of playing on the big stage. Kevin Stefanski is the right man to lead this talented team and more postseason showings await in the coming years.
  5. Lamar Jackson not only suffered the indignity of losing to Buffalo on Saturday, he then had to read post-game comments from his wide receiver Willie Snead. There was a lot of great stuff from Snead talking about how Lamar can use yet another playoff loss as motivation for the future. But there was also plenty about how the quarterback needs to get better as a passer. The most annoying thing for Lamar would be the fact that he knows Snead is 100 percent right.

Fact of the Week

The Packers racked up 484 yards of total offense and beat the top-ranked Rams defense in the Divisional Playoffs on Saturday. 484 total yards were the most allowed in a playoff game by the No. 1 total defense since the 1970 merger, and also marked the most in a playoff win in Packers history.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…

From Luke Butcher (@LukeButcher) After this weekend's performances, the team to beat right now is…_ possibly the Green Bay Packers. While I have long considered the better teams to be in the AFC, the Packers are looking in supreme form right now. Their offense was purring against the Rams, so points are pretty much guaranteed whenever Aaron Rodgers steps on the field. But it's not just the passing game. The Packers can control the clock and dictate the pace of games on the ground. And their defense is playing well at the best time of the year.

From Lee Pinkus (@leepinkus) Deshaun Watson will be the starting quarterback next season at… the Houston Texans. If he is not – and that is still a possibility – Houston's new decision-makers, Jack Easterby and Nick Caserio, will have got off to the worst possible start. You cannot let a 25-year-old franchise quarterback with Hall of Fame-level skills get out of your building. That would not be the best start to an era and what kind of message does that send to the incoming head coach? Watson is seriously upset and teams like Miami or San Francisco would offer him a way out of Houston in an absolute heartbeat. This is a fascinating story worth monitoring, but I still say he is more likely to be a Texan in 2021 than play anywhere else.

From Charles Elder (@ChuckElderUK)… Like him or loathe him, Tom Brady will make any team he plays for a success because he_… remains as hungry now as the day he entered the league. His passes may be accurate, on time and attacking the right area of the defense. That's all great, but there is so much more to Brady that cannot be determined in throws that are made or missed. He is the fiercest competitor on the block and once told me that his favourite Super Bowl win was "the next one." He is never satisfied, which is why he has six Super Bowl rings already and stands just two victories from an incredible seventh.

Final Thought

We are guaranteed a Super Bowl matchup pitting a veteran Hall of Fame quarterback against a young and physically-imposing signal-caller in the early stages of a career that promises greatness. Out of the NFC will come Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady and the winner of that greybeard clash will meet Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen in the Super Bowl in Tampa on February 7. Before we get to that particular showdown, I cannot wait for the two Championship Games. This is always my favourite weekend of the year. Is it Sunday yet?

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