KANSAS CITY, Mo. - One day after the shocking murder-suicide involving linebacker Jovan Belcher, the Kansas Chiefs played their finest game of the season and beat Carolina 27-21.
No turnovers. Just one penalty. And almost to a man Sunday, they praised the leadership of their embattled coach, Romeo Crennel.
The previous day, Crennel had stood alongside general manager Scott Pioli in the Chiefs parking lot and saw Belcher put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
"It was tough, hard on him," said defensive lineman Shaun Smith. "I told him after the game I love him, because he's like my father. I could feel the pain and emotion that he was dealing with."
Linebacker Andy Studebaker, his voice choking, said a team "couldn't ask for a better way to lead."
"He provided us with a ton of perspective about leaning on each other, bracing each other," Studebaker said. "He provided great leadership, great perspective in the circumstances we dealt with yesterday. I don't think you could have asked him to handle it better."
Brady Quinn was 19 for 23 for 201 yards and two touchdowns and gave the Chiefs their best quarterback play since they won the AFC West in 2010 behind Matt Cassel. Quinn also gave Crennel credit for keeping everybody together.
"Crennel kind of said it best before the game, kind of talked to us about how Jovan played the game," Quinn said. "That's how he wanted us to go out and play the game. That's the kind of emotion he wanted us to have."
Throughout the season, as losses and misplays mounted and the Chiefs dropped 10 of their first 11 games, fan and media criticism of Crennel became relentless, even personal, and sometimes cruel.
Never once has he let on that it bothered him. But this was different.
Crennel admitted the pain and shock of what he had witnessed would stay with him a long time.
"Respectfully you guys and ladies, I'm choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday," Crennel told reporters. "And I think you will understand that and you'll respect my wishes on that, because it wasn't a pretty sight."
He said he knew the players would be looking to him for strength.
"I felt like I would be able to handle it, and I knew I needed to be strong for the players in that locker room and they needed to see a strong, individual leader," he said.
While many around the town and around the league were wondering if Sunday's game would be postponed, Crennel was making the decision to carry forth.
"After talking with the captains, they also felt like it was best that we play," he said. "If for no other reason it takes our mind off our misery for a few hours. That's what it did. It helped us do that."
Crennel said he sensed a good energy in the locker room as the Chiefs were about to take the field. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak and gave the hometown fans a victory to cheer for the first time in almost a calendar year.
"It was a total team victory. I'm proud of the guys in that locker room, proud of the coaches, proud of the organization for having to deal with what we had to deal with, and be able to pull through it and show some character," said Crennel. "As an organization, as a team, as players and coaches, I thought that was all very positive."