A little more than 24 hours after teammate Jovan Belcher committed suicide outside the team's nearby practice facility, the Kansas City Chiefs overcame their grief and had their best overall performance of the 2012 season.
The Chiefs' 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium ended Kansas City's losing streak at eight games and providing their first victory since Sept. 21. The loss left the Panthers at 3-9.
Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend Saturday morning at their home just to the east of the Truman Sports Complex. The fourth-year linebacker then drove to the team's facilities, spoke with general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel and took his own life with the same gun that killed the mother of their 3-month-old daughter.
Whether it was in Belcher's memory or the fact that the Panthers have been a struggling team too, the Chiefs had their best offensive and defensive performance of the season. They scored points on three of their five possessions in the first 20 minutes.
On their first opportunity to open the game, they 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 quarterback Brady 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 came a Carolina touchdown on its first possession as quarterback Cam Newton found tight end Greg Olsen wide open on a 47-yard pass-and-run play for six points. Early in the second quarter, Newton threw another touchdown pass -- this one went for 23 yards to wide receiver Steve Smith in the end zone. The PAT kick gave 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 end zone for the touchdown. Succop's PAT kick gave Kansas City the 17-14 at halftime, the first Chiefs lead at intermission in 12 games this season.
In the third quarter, the Cheifs built on that lead with their longest drive of the season - 17 plays that included a pair of fourth-down conversions. The big play in the drive was a 25-yard pass play from Quinn to Moeaki. Quinn threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin for the touchdown. It gave 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 just under five minutes to play that pushed the difference to six points at 27-21. The Panthers could not make up the difference.
Notes: The only acknowledgement in the stadium on Sunday of Saturday's tragedy was a moment of silence before the game began for "all victims of domestic violence." ... Each secondary had to deal with injuries that took defensive backs out of the game in the first half. The Chiefs lost safety Abram Elam to a leg injury and cornerback Brandon Flowers to a hamstring pull while the Panthers lost safety Sherrod Martin to a right knee injury ... Carolina lost the opening coin toss, the 12th consecutive game where the team has failed to gain the advantage. Linebacker Thomas Davis called heads; it came up tails.