KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When the final whistle blew in Sunday's game between the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs, a multitude of players from both teams kneeled at midfield for a postgame prayer.
It's a common sight throughout the NFL most Sundays, but this one came in the face of uncommon, unimaginable circumstances.
"We were just praying for the families and for the Kansas City organization through this tough time," Panthers wide receiver
The Chiefs' first victory of the season at Arrowhead Stadium kicked off less than 28 hours after the deaths of linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend. The Panthers learned of the tragedy shortly before they boarded a plane bound for Kansas City early Saturday afternoon.
"I explained that it was going to be an emotional game for the Chiefs and that we had to raise our level to match their emotion and energy," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "The Chiefs played an inspired football game. You have to give them credit.
"They suffered through a very difficult time but they came together and rallied as a team. My congratulations go to the Kansas City Chiefs and to (head coach) Romeo Crennel."
Shortly before the opening kickoff, fans were asked "to remember all victims of domestic violence and their families" during a moment of silence. After the kickoff, both teams did the best they could to put Saturday's tragedy on the back burner – for three hours at least.
"It was a lot easier for us obviously than them. None of us were really close to anyone who was directly affected," tackle
"Guys just have to fall back on that experience when something so major happens."
While all parties involved adopted a business-as-usual approach between the lines, they all understood that it wasn't. It reminded wide receiver
"I cannot try to sum up in words what these men are going through. It's not our place as the Carolina Panthers," Smith said. "The NFL is a fraternity. Guys really try to watch out for each other, when you're playing and when you're not playing. At the same time, it's an unforeseen tragedy and it's hard in these circumstances to know exactly what the other people are going through, so I'm not going to speculate.
"This is an emotional game, and guys draw from tragedy. We were not unprepared for the emotional aspect of it, but we underperformed. We allowed a team with a heavy heart to hang around, and they made some key plays and finished us off."
The Chiefs had lost eight consecutive games before Sunday, but as is typically the approach, the Panthers spent last week preparing for the best that Kansas City could bring to the table.
The Chiefs brought even better than that.
"We know they were going to come out and play inspired football," linebacker