KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Against the backdrop of an unthinkable tragedy, the Kansas City Chiefs gave themselves a reason to be proud Sunday — and perhaps the impetus to let the healing begin.
Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in the Chiefs’ 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak during one of the most difficult seasons the franchise has ever experienced.
The game was played one day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team’s practice facility and turned the gun on himself as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel looked on.
Pioli walked through the press box before the game and said he was doing “OK,” though he didn’t stop to talk. Crennel was on the sideline coaching his team to an uplifting victory.
“As far as playing the game, I thought that was the best for us to do, because that’s what we do,” Crennel said, tears forming in the corner of his eyes. “We’re football players and football coaches and that’s what we do, we play on Sunday.”
Cam Newton threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers (3-9), who were informed the game would be played as scheduled while they were heading to Kansas City on Saturday.
DeAngelo Williams added 67 yards rushing for the Panthers, carrying the load with Jonathan Stewart out with an injury. Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Louis Murphy caught their TD passes.
“You definitely feel for them. What they are going through is tragic,” Olsen said. “But we have a job to do. Our job is to come here and prepare to win. They wouldn’t expect any less.”
Peyton Hillis had a touchdown run for Kansas City (2-10), while Tony Moeaki and Jon Baldwin had touchdown catches. Ryan Succop hit a pair of field goals, including a 52-yarder with 4:54 left that forced the Panthers to attempt a touchdown to steal the win.
Instead, the Panthers went three-and-out, and the Chiefs were able to run the clock down to 31 seconds before giving back the ball. Newton completed two quick passes to reach the Carolina 38, but his final heave as time expired was caught by Smith short of the end zone.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera greeted Crennel at midfield and gave him a hug.
“They played an inspired football game,” Rivera said. “They did some really good things, and we have to give them credit, because they suffered through a very difficult time.”
Chiefs players gathered in the tunnel leading to the field for a brief prayer before their pregame stretching. A few fans in the half-empty stadium held up signs referencing the shootings, and there was a moment of silence to remember all victims of domestic violence.
Kansas City police have not released a motive for the shootings, which claimed the life of Belcher and 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, and left a 3-month-old girl, Zoey, an orphan.
Belcher’s locker was left with his jersey hanging on a hook.
“It’s been an incredibly difficult 24 hours for our family and our entire organization,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told The Associated Press on the field before the game. “We have so many guys on our team and our coaching staff who are really, really hurting.”
The emotions were raw even after the kickoff.
Kansas City took the opening possession and marched 74 yards in just six plays, including a 21-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe and a 34-yarder to Baldwin that got the Chiefs to the 2.
Hillis powered in to score the first touchdown for Kansas City on the opening possession of a game since Dec. 26, 2010. It was also the first touchdown drive engineered by Quinn since December 2009, when he helped the Browns beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Hillis ran to the sideline after scoring his first touchdown of the season and handed the ball to Crennel, then gave the affable head coach a big bear hug.
The Panthers answered with a long touchdown drive. The big play came when safety Abe Elam watched Olsen haul in a 47-yard pass from Newton for the tying touchdown.
The Chiefs had tacked on a field goal when the Panthers struck again, this time after Newton completed three passes to convert third downs, the last of them finding Smith in the end zone.
But Kansas City finished off the half with one of its best drives of the year, an 80-yard march that took up the final 7:25. Hillis was stuffed at the line on third-and-goal, and Crennel allowed the clock to hit 2 seconds before calling timeout. On the final play of the half, Quinn saw Moeaki open in the back of the end zone and delivered a soft toss for a 17-14 lead.
Breathing room came late in the third quarter when the Chiefs used 17 plays to go 87 yards on a drive that lasted another 10 minutes. Quinn finished it with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin.
Carolina mounted a comeback with the opening drive of the fourth quarter, with Newton hitting Murphy on a quick slant route from the 8 to get the Panther within a field goal.
The Chiefs added their own field goal, and then labored through the final minutes before pouring on the field, hugging each other and then kneeling in prayer around the midfield logo.
“In moments, tragedies like this, they can define you or redefine you,” Quinn said, “and I think this team took an event and allowed it to redefine us. We were battling through a lot of emotions, a lot of difficulty on the field, and guys stepped up and played a heck of a game.”