How Chad Henne has impacted the Chiefs juggernaut despite barely ever playing

PHOENIX — The Kansas City Chiefs are in the Super Bowl again and have a secret weapon that’s been a big help to their football operation over the past few years. Not Patrick Mahomes, not the offensive wizardry of Andy Reid, not even their stalwart defensive tackle Chris Jones. The Chiefs have so much star power around them that the NFL has allowed them to carry something that every team wishes they had.

That’s right: Chad Henne, the 15-year veteran backup quarterback who is the true engine behind the Chiefs’ sustained run of success.

Of course that’s facetious, but it is interesting that the Chiefs have had to rely on their quarterback depth in multiple postseason runs due to injuries to Mahomes. Henne held the fort down in 2020 by steering the Chiefs to a divisional round victory over the Cleveland Browns and was under center for the Chiefs when they marched 98 yards down the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this postseason.

The Chiefs would probably prefer their backup quarterback never have to play, but that hasn’t always been the case for them. It helps to have a solid buffer like Henne just to be prepared for the worst — and there’s nothing worse than losing Mahomes for even a second of game time.

The Chiefs are happy with Chad Henne's impact on Patrick Mahomes — and his performances in the playoffs on short notice. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The Chiefs are happy with Chad Henne's impact on Patrick Mahomes — and his performances in the playoffs on short notice. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Matt Nagy, the former Chicago Bears head coach who returned to the Chiefs as a senior assistant and quarterbacks coach this season, said that having someone like Henne in the building has helped their preparation on a whole — and he has been able to have a positive impact on Mahomes as he has grown in this quarterbacks room throughout the years.

“He’s very, very routine,” Nagy said. “Monday he comes in, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It’s the same to the minute, every day, the entire week and it’s really just special to see.”

Henne may not be the supernova talent that Mahomes is, but there’s always something that older players can push upon their peers in regards to being a better, more productive player.

“It wasn’t like that in 2017,” Nagy said about Mahomes’ habits his rookie season. “He kind of learned that as he grew. We’ve got a great quarterback room. Chad Henne has been phenomenal for him as a vet. A guy that’s 36 or 37, he’s been through it as a starter, he’s been through a lot.”

What’s interesting about this arrangement is that Henne himself does not have a lot of on-field playoff experience. Outside of his appearances against the Browns and the Jaguars, Henne hasn’t played in a playoff game over his entire career. Those are moments that Henne has grown to appreciate over the years because it is rare to have the opportunity to play in these games.

“It’s been [moments] to remember,” Henne said. “Going back from my Miami days to my Jacksonville days and the adversity I faced. And then these two big moments later in my career, it just shows you all the preparation that I’ve put in throughout the years.”

Henne being an active participant without playing a lot has benefitted the Chiefs as a whole. The margins might not show it, but the Chiefs seem to rely a lot on their backup quarterback to help them be the best version of themselves — and to stay ready in the few times that his number is called.