Backup quarterbacks did more than just hold clipboards in the NFL’s divisional playoff round.
Jameis Winston threw a 56-yard trick-play touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith on his first playoff action after 76 regular-season games over six seasons.
Chad Henne, the Chiefs’ 35-year-old backup, also got his first taste of the playoffs Sunday when he was pressed into duty after former MVP Patrick Mahomes suffered a concussion midway through the third quarter against Cleveland.
In his 72nd NFL game, Henne atoned for an end zone interception with two huge plays to allow the Chiefs to escape with a 22-17 win over the Browns.
A day earlier, another ex-MVP, Lamar Jackson, was knocked out of Baltimore’s 17-3 loss at Buffalo and was replaced by Tyler Huntley, an undrafted rookie from Utah who ascended to QB2 status last month when Robert Griffin III (hamstring) and Trace McSorely (knee) ended up on IR.
The only game that both quarterbacks took all the snaps was the Packers’ 32-18 win over the Rams, when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns and Jared Goff was an efficient 21 of 27 a week after he was pressed into duty just 12 days post-surgery on his broken right thumb.
Rodgers and Tom Brady, making his 14th conference championship appearance in 21 seasons, square off next week at Lambeau Field. Mahomes will have to clear concussion protocol to face the Bills and Josh Allen, who has completed 68.1% of his playoff passes after completing 69.2% of his throws in his breakout 2020 regular season.
WINSTON WINGING IT
Winston’s long touchdown throw was his only pass, leaving him with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. His TD gave the Saints a 13-10 lead over the Bucs in the second quarter. But he didn’t get another snap in New Orleans’ 30-20 loss that many believe was Drew Brees’ final game after 20 NFL seasons in which he threw for 85,724 yards, including the playoffs.
That’s more than 16 miles worth of completions.
If this was it, Brees went out with a whimper: 134 yards passing and three interceptions in the worst playoff game of his career.
Brees broke 11 ribs in 2020 and missed four games, so it’s easy to say he should have retired a year ago.
“No complaints. No regrets,” said Brees, who tossed the football around with his kids and Brady long after the game ended. “I’ve always tried to play this game with great respect and a great reverence for it, and I appreciate all that this game has given to me.
“There are obviously so many incredible memories, so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing in this game, and you found out so much about yourself, and you fight through so much when you play this game,” Brees said.
“And I would say this season I probably had to fight through more than I’ve ever had to in any other season in my career, from injury to all the COVID stuff to just crazy circumstances, and it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely.”
PRACTICE SQUAD JUMP
Jackson was forced out of the game two plays after Taron Johnson tied an NFL record with a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Bills a 17-3 lead.
Facing second-and-10 at Baltimore’s 25, center Patrick Mekari snapped the ball over Jackson’s head. The quarterback turned and chased the bouncing ball down inside the 5, turned and quickly threw it away as Tremaine Edmunds had him by the legs and Trent Murphy fell on top of him.
Jackson’s concussion left Huntley, who had been promoted from the practice squad, to finish the game and he completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards, not nearly enough for a comeback.
“We’ll hold our head high walking out of here and into the offseason,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Henne played a major role in Kansas City squeaking past Cleveland to earn a third consecutive AFC championship game at home.
The 35-year-old veteran of 11 NFL seasons in Miami, Jacksonville and K.C. completed the Chiefs’ field goal drive after Mahomes was thrown down hard by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson. But with Kansas City clinging to a five-point lead following a TD run by former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, Henne was intercepted in the end zone by Karl Joseph with eight minutes remaining.
The Chiefs forced a punt and Henne got the ball back with just over four minutes left. Cleveland couldn’t stop Henne from scrambling for 13 yards on third-and-14 or from completing a short pass on fourth-and-inches to Tyreek Hill with 74 seconds left to seal the Chiefs’ 10th win this season by six points or less.
The Browns’ biggest regret was wide receiver Rashard Higgins’ fumble near the goal line in the closing minutes of the first half.
Higgins hauled in a 25-yard pass from Baker Mayfield while stumbling near the Chiefs’ 5-yard line and launched himself toward the corner pylon.
Just as Higgins extended his arms, he was blasted by Chiefs linebacker Daniels Sorenson, who dislodged the ball, which bounced out of the end zone for a touchback.
Lost in the commotion was Sorenson’s helmet-to-helmet hit that should have negated the turnover.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t blaming the officials or the rule book like so many announcers and fans did.
“I will never ever doubt Rashard Higgins’ effort or our guys’ effort,” Stefanski said. “Our rule there is not to reach the ball out when it is first-and-goal, and he knows that. Again, appreciate his effort. He battled like he always does, but we have to fight that urge because it is such a big loss if it does end up being a touchback.”
With contributions from AP Sports Writers Tom Withers, Dave Skretta, David Ginsburg and Brett Martel.
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