KANSAS CITY, Mo. - As tough as it was to deal with the horror of what happened just 24 hours before with teammate Jovan Belcher, the Chiefs were determined to go on with Sunday's game against Carolina and to play in the manner of their late middle linebacker.
"Coach Rac (Romeo Crennel) told us before the game that how we could best honor Jovan was to go out and play the game the way he did, tough and hard-nosed," said Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn.
For the first time in months, the Chiefs played in that manner for 60 minutes and on both offense and defense. They stopped their eight-game losing streak with a 27-21 victory over the Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium.
It should have been a joyous afternoon for a struggling team that had not won a game since September and had dropped to the bottom of the NFL with the league's worst record, now 2-10. But the suicide of Belcher Saturday morning, moments after he shot to death his girlfriend, hung in the air on a sun-splashed December afternoon.
"We won, it's great, but how do you celebrate?" cornerback Brandon Flowers said. "We lost one of our own, one of our brothers and I'm sure he's looking at us and he's happy with what we did, but there's no way to throw a party. We did what we wanted to do - we went out and played the game like Jovan would have."
On offense, the Chiefs scored three touchdowns. Considering they scored three TDs in the previous seven games, it was quite a step forward. Running back Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards on 27 carries and Quinn threw for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns. A big key for the Chiefs was they did not turn the ball over.
The Panthers did not turn the ball over either. Quarterback Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and wide receiver Steve Smith caught five passes for 120 yards. But Carolina is now 3-9 because its was not able to deal with the Chiefs reaction to Belcher's death.
"We had to match their emotion with a higher energy level," said Carolina head coach Ron Rivera. "They played an inspired football game. They did some really good things and they were able to rally and play a very solid football game. I think we did at times, but we weren't consistent."
Whether it was the memory of Belcher or the fact that Carolina is also a struggling team, the Chiefs had their best offensive and defensive performance of the season. They scored points on three of their five possessions in the first half and held their first lead at intermission this season.
Given the opportunity to open the game, the K.C. offense drove 74 yards on six plays with running back Peyton Hillis scoring on a two-yard run. The big play of the drive was a 34-yard pass play from Quinn to wide receiver Jon Baldwin. The next time they had the ball, kicker Ryan Succop nailed a 42-yard field goal at the end of an 11-play, 56-yard drive.
In between those Chiefs scores was a Carolina touchdown as Newton found tight end Greg Olsen wide open on a 47-yard pass-and-run play. Early in the second quarter, Newton threw another touchdown pass -- this one went 23 yards to Smith in the end zone, giving the Panthers a 14-10 lead.
The Chiefs finished up the half with a 13-play, 80-yard drive where they converted four third-down situations and scored on fourth-and-goal from the Carolina 1-yard line with no time on the clock. Quinn found tight end Tony Moeaki open in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, and Succop's PAT kick gave Kansas City the 17-14 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Chiefs built on that lead with the longest drive of the season for the Kansas City offense - 17 plays that included a pair of fourth-down conversions. Quinn threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin to give the Chiefs a 24-14 lead with just under 18 minutes left on the game clock.
Newton led the Carolina offense on a long scoring drive, using both his arm and his legs. He ran for 59 yards in the possession and then connected with wide receiver Louis Murphy on an eight-yard touchdown pass that cut the Kansas City lead to 24-21.
Succop made a 52-yard field goal with a little under five minutes to play that pushed the deficit to six points at 27-21. With two subsequent possessions, the Panthers could not make up the difference.
For the Chiefs, the hard part now comes in the days ahead when they are constantly reminded about the absence of their teammate.
"This was an escape for us," said Moeaki. "For most of the game we were able to focus on the task at hand. Now, we will have to refocus and that's going to be tough. We lost a good man."