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“That’s when it kind of hit me,” Quinn said. “It was kind of tough to step back and gain focus, what the task was in front of us. And more than anything, as a player, we just wanted to come together as a team and bring some good to this situation.”

The Chiefs managed to do that in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy.

Quinn threw two touchdown passes and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in an inspired 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It not only ended an eight-game losing streak, it also proved cathartic for a franchise still reeling from a murder-suicide involving one of its own.

“It was tough,” Quinn said, his voice shaky at times. “It was an eerie feeling after a win, because you don’t think you can really win in this situation.”

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt was at his side, offering support. Members of the team hugged each other, the mud smearing with tears on their cheeks. And along the wall stood the empty locker that once belonged to Jovan Belcher, his jersey still hanging from a hook.

Just one day after the linebacker killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself, the Chiefs banded together to play their finest game of the season, a 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers that ended an eight-game losing streak suddenly rendered trivial.

“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 corners of his eyes. “We’re football players and football coaches and that’s what we do: We play on Sunday.”

According to police reports, Belcher, 25, and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, 22, were arguing around 7 a.m. on Saturday. Also at their home was Belcher’s mother, who was visiting to help care for their three-month-old daughter, Zoey Michelle.

Around 7:50 a.m., Belcher shot Perkins several times. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Belcher drove 15 minutes to Arrowhead Stadium where he stood in the parking lot and thanked general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, for what they had done for him, news reports said. Belcher had played three seasons for the Chiefs and had started in nearly every game.

Cam Newton threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns, and DeAngelo Williams ran for 67 yards in place of the injured Jonathan Stewart, but the Chiefs banded together to forge a 27-21 victory that snapped their own eight-game losing streak that suddenly seems trivial.

After the game, Rivera met Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel at midfield and gave him a hug.

“They played an inspired game,” Rivera said. “They did some really good things, and we have to give them credit. They suffered through a difficult time and rallied as a team.”

Team owner, Clark Hunt, spent time in the locker room before the game saying he just wanted to show his support for the team.

“Well, it’s been a very big challenge for our organization and for our family. We lost two important members of our family yesterday in a tremendous tragedy. And it’s just been so tough for everybody involved,” Hunt said.

WBTV’s John Carter attended the game in Kansas City. He told anchor Sharon Smith by phone, “I would call it a somewhat subdued crowd..a lot of people were concerned before hand and you could almost hear a sigh of relief when they did the moment of silence…they did it for victims of domestic violence.”

On Saturday Javon Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend, according to police, before committing suicide in a parking lot at the Chiefs’ training facility. He shot himself in front of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli, and another coach or employee. “They said the player was actually thanking them for everything they’d done for him,” a police spokesman said. “They were just talking to him and he was thanking them and everything. That’s when he walked away and shot himself.” Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, had a three-month old daughter together. Belcher’s agent, Joe Linta — who is also the agent for Crennel, told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King on Saturday:

The Chiefs defense was decimated as they lost starting cornerback Brandon Flowers and linebacker Derrick Johnson to hamstring injuries. Carolina had the ball at their 40 with 10 minutes to play, and a makeshift secondary created a coverage sack by Justin Houston for a 10-yard loss.

Houston then stopped DeAngelo Williams for a yard loss, and on third-and-20, Newton’s pass was batted down by Tyson Jackson, forcing Carolina to punt.

The Chiefs then got a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, making it 27-21 with 4:54 left in regulation.

Crennel shed his conservative approach in this game, passing up field goal attempts on fourth down three times and picking up first downs on all three occasions.

Watching him on the sideline you might not have known Romeo was coaching 28 hours after eye-witnessing tragedy. He saw a man he loved — linebacker Jovan Belcher — put a gun to his head and pull the trigger in the parking lot of the team’s practice facility Saturday morning shortly after murdering his longtime girlfriend.

That image won’t leave Romeo’s memory soon, maybe never, and there are many who wondered if this game should even have been played. Many wondered how the game could even be played. But Romeo saw football as therapy, teammates as brothers who needed each other now more than ever. That even spirit never defined him so completely.

The holidays were coming, and the couple’s baby girl, Zoey, who was not yet 3 months old, was so fun and loving. The couple’s relationship, which Belcher’s mother told police had been troubled in recent months, felt stronger.

“She was like, ‘We’re so happy, we’re doing great,’ ” VanCompernolle, 21, of Independence, remembered her friend saying when she stopped by before taking Zoey to her 2-month checkup. “She said, ‘We’re the happiest we’ve been in a long time.’ ”

Siler spent Saturday afternoon absorbing all that had happened, asking himself if he should have recognized a problem.

“It’s one of the first things you do, think if I could have done something,” Siler said. “I went through it a hundred times in my mind, and I couldn’t think of anything.

“There are a lot of what-ifs, it drives you crazy. You have to cope with it and deal with it. It’s real and it happened.”

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