Setting aside for a moment the events surrounding the obvious and tragic incidents that weighed heavy on the Kansas City Chiefs this last weekend -- and that's in no way meant to minimize them -- the team's 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers can be seen as a specific triumph of the spirit. One day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then took his own life, the remaining Chiefs players took the field after unanimously deciding to play and put forth their best performance of the season.
They did so with heavy hearts -- for their former teammate, for Perkins, and for the 3-month-old baby left orphaned by Belcher's horrific actions. They did so in a half-empty stadium with subdued fans, and trying to get their second win of a lost and brutally disappointing season.
Quarterback Brady Quinn completed 19 of 23 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Jamaal Charles ran 27 times for 127 yards. Quinn threw to eight different receivers, redeeming himself to some small degree in a career that has been marked by nothing but disappointment. And the Chiefs defense manned up, limiting Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to 15 completions and 232 yards on 27 attempts.
Newton did throw three touchdown passes, and the usually dormant Panthers rushing attack put up 165 total yards on 22 carries. Cornerback Brandon Flowers and linebacker Derrick Johnson -- the team's two best defensive players -- were lost to hamstring injuries.
But given the pall surrounding the game, and the emotions not yet processed, it's amazing the Chiefs could function at all.
"We wanted to play the game because we're football players," Johnson said after the game. "We love the game of football. When something happens like this, what we're going to be doing is sitting around three or four hours when we're supposed to be playing just thinking about the tragedy that went on?"
Again, this is not to trivialize what happened to Kasandra Perkins, or to her daughter. And nobody would be expected to sympathize or empathize with the Chiefs players, coaches and staff if they felt more than a tinge of sadness for their fallen teammate, because Belcher fell at his own hand and took another life with him. But when the Chiefs decided to band together as human beings and try to climb out of the wreckage with this game, nobody would have been surprised if they went out on the Arrowhead Stadium field and played as if their thoughts were elsewhere.
Instead, they did what so many praised the Penn State football program for doing after the Jerry Sandusky scandal -- they played as well as they possibly could, and did their best to extract a measure of strength and human dignity in the wake of events that can't be explained or washed away.
"Knowing that it's not over today, it will still go on tomorrow and the next day and the next day, but life is going to go on as well," head coach Romeo Crennel said. "After we leave here, we'll still work through the tragedy we had to endure yesterday."
And for that, as much as we look to sports for the best in ourselves at the worst of times, the Kansas City Chiefs can be seen in a different light -- if we choose to see them that way.
Now, for all involved, it's back to the real story, and an achingly long list of questions that need to be answered.
"We don't want her to be overshadowed by who he was. ... She deserves recognition, too," one of Kasandra Perkins' friends told the Kansas City Star. And that is absolutely correct.
[Slideshow: Carolina Panthers vs. Kansas City Chiefs pregame]
Perkins needs to be remembered, and nobody knows what will become of her daughter. The Chiefs need to address that situation, and by all accounts, a team fund will be set up. The NFL must do more to ensure that players feel comfortable reaching out for counseling if and when it's needed. And the remaining Chiefs, from the bottom of the 53-man roster to the top of the front office, have a long and hard emotional journey ahead of them.
But for three hours on a Sunday afternoon, they were victorious. It's one step forward on a seemingly infinite journey.
Related Jovan Belcher coverage on Yahoo! Sports
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• Jovan Belcher's conflicting portrait reveals a hard-working young man
• Former Belcher teammate writes about Chiefs tragedy
• Deaths in K.C. are latest in tragic year for the NFL