Carolina Panthers Come Up Short as Kansas City Chiefs Rally Around Tragedy
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As tragic as the Carolina Panthers' 3-9 season has been so far, nothing comes close to the horrifying circumstances the Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) faced on Sunday afternoon after starting linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his three-month-old child before taking his own life less than 28 hours before kickoff.
Belcher, a fourth-year player out of Maine, shot himself in the head in the Chiefs' training facility parking lot Saturday morning in front of head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, according to Kansas City police, after thanking them for the opportunity to play for the team.
The game was almost not played, with the Carolina Panthers and the NFL deferring to the wishes of the Chiefs' players and coaches to play the game as scheduled in order to retain a sense of normalcy.
And as is often the case with teams dealing with the death or illness of a player or coach, the Chiefs rallied around the loss of their teammate and brother to defeat the Panthers, 27-21, in front of a shockingly small crowd at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City's quarterback, Brady Quinn, had his best day as a pro, completing 19-of-23 passes for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns and running back Jamaal Charles carried the ball 27 times for 127 yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career.
But the Chiefs played with heavy hearts following a moment of silence before the game in which no names were mentioned.
Carolina moved the ball well, rushing for 165 yards and scoring on three Cam Newton touchdown passes, but the Chiefs dominated time of possession by nearly a 2:1 margin and the Panthers could not muster a game-winning drive after Ryan Succup's 52-yard field goal cemented the final score at the 4:54 mark.
The Panthers entered the game hoping to build upon the momentum built by winning two of their previous three games, including last week's 30-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
Who is to blame for Panthers' loss to the Chiefs?
However, a dropped pass by Brandon LaFell on what would have been a 52-yard touchdown completion on the opening drive of the second half and an inexcusable fourth-quarter penalty on cornerback Josh Thomas for unsportsmanlike conduct squashed Carolina's chances to win consecutive games for the first time since Week 16 last season.
The loss may have sealed the fate of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who hoped to finish the year with a late-season rally to save his job, the possibility of which now seems very unlikely.
Whether the Chiefs wanted the win more than the Panthers is debatable, but whether or not they needed it more is not.
Following an emotional postgame locker room speech by Coach Crennel in which he commended his players for rallying around one another, their faith and their families, Chiefs' chairman Clark Hunt awarded the game ball to the entire team and handed it to the head coach after the game.
Crennel promised the ball will be displayed prominently for all of the team to see as a reminder of their courageous effort.
On a final note and personal feelings aside, there is never any circumstance in which taking your own life or that of another person's is the last resort.
If you or anyone you know is considering hurting themselves or someone you know, please seek help, speak to that person and seek the assistance of those who can help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is one such available resource.
Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers and the NFL on B/R. He is also a golf contributor at Back9Network.com.
Follow me on Twitter @JimmyGrappone.
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