KANSAS CITY, Mo. Romeo Crennel stood in the Kansas City Chiefs' locker room Sunday, emotion threatening to overcome the good-natured coach.
Teammates hugged each other, 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.
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, an inspired 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.
"Respectfully, I'm choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday. And I think you will understand that and you'll respect my wishes on that, because it wasn't a pretty sight."
According to authorities, Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times early Saturday at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then sped to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli watched in the parking lot.
Pioli said he was doing "OK" before the game.
Chiefs players gathered in the tunnel leading to the field for a brief prayer before their pregame stretching. There was a moment of silence to remember all victims of domestic violence.
"I'm just trying to get through the rest of today," said the Chiefs' Brady Quinn, who threw his first two touchdown passes in three years. "The emotions of what has taken place will probably hit home for a few guys the next few days, when they realize what's taken place."
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 traveled to Kansas City on Saturday.
"You definitely feel for them. What they are going through is tragic," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. "But 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. After scoring, Hillis ran to the sideline and handed the ball to Crennel, then gave the guy who held the team together a hug.
"There were pockets in the game where reality hits you again, and that's sobering," Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker said. "Jovan was like a brother to us. His family was family to us. Our hearts go out to them, man. It brought us closer as a team today, I think. But it's never going to be easy."