The Chiefs played a perfect game on a surreal Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Amid an eerie backdrop just a day after the organization was stunned when linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend at his home and later committed suicide in front of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel at the club’s practice facility, an emotionally charged team beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21.
The Chiefs, who led the NFL in turnovers with 32, did not turn the ball over for the first time all year. And they were not called for a penalty until a delay of game with two-and-a-half minutes to play.
The victory, the first at home for the Chiefs, 2-10, snapped an eight-game losing streak in front of a crowd of 62,860. Carolina fell to 3-9.
Quarterback Brady Quinn completed 19 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns for his first victory with the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles ran 27 times for 127 yards against a Carolina defense that came in ranked 25th against the run. Charles eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in a season for the third time in four years.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who had been relatively quiet in the first three quarters of the game, came alive at the end of the third period and sparked the Panthers to a touchdown, drawing them to within 24-21 with 13:21 left in regulation.
Newton called his own number for a 28 yard run at the end of the third quarter, and his 20-yard run set up an 8-yard pass to Louis Murphy, who beat backup cornerback Jalil Brown to the inside for the score.
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.
The Chiefs took a 24-14 lead on a 3-yard pass from quarterback Brady Quinn to wide receiver Jon Baldwin with 2:52 left in the third quarter after two fourth-down gambles worked out.
On fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 22, the Chiefs gave it to Peyton Hillis, who bounced off a defender and picked up five yards. Then, on fourth-and-1 from the 13, Hillis banged out a yard.
The Chiefs led at halftime for the first time all season when Crennel went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Quinn hit Tony Moeaki for a touchdown in the back of the end zone for a 17-14 advantage on the final play of the half.
Crennel usually opts for field goals in those situations, but he let the clock run down to 2 seconds before calling time out and deciding to go for the touchdown. Quinn play-faked to running back Peyton Hills, and found Moeaki all alone for his first touchdown pass as a Chief.
The Chiefs, who had been slow starters all season, scored on their first two possessions. Quinn, who had not directed a touchdown drive in his previous three starts, marched the Chiefs 74 yards in six plays with Hillis scoring on a two-yard run. Quinn hit two big passes on the drive, a 21-yarder to Dwayne Bowe off a nice play-fake to Jamaal Charles; and a 34-yarder down the sidelines to Jon Baldwin.
Quinn made a quick inside fake to Charles and double pumped as Baldwin beat safety Charles Godfrey on a double move and was tackled at the 2, setting up Hillis’ first touchdown with the Chiefs.
Carolina answered by tying the score 7-7 on a 47-yard pass in the seam from Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen beat Elam, who bit on a play fake.
The Chiefs regained the lead with a 42-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with 3:20 to play in the first quarter.
Injuries cut into the Chiefs secondary as both Elam _who had started for inactive free safety Kendrick Lewis _ left the game with a leg injury and cornerback Flowers left with a hamstring injury. That meant rookie safety Tysyn Hartman and rookie cornerback Neiko Thorpe were pressed into duty.
It would get worse when strong safety Eric Berry did not come out for the second half, so backup Tavis Daniels took over there.
Carolina exploited Thorpe, who was activated from the practice squad a few weeks ago when Newton found him one-on-one on Pro Bowler Steve Smith, who caught a 23-yard touchdown pass for a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter.
The Chiefs, aided by three Carolina penalties, marched 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown pass to Moeaki. A key play was Quinn hitting a leaping Bowe for an 18-yard gain on third-and-6 from the Chiefs’ 37 and 12-yard flip to Dexter McCluster on a third-and-1 from Carolina’s 36.