CLEVELAND - Their emotions remain raw following a week when their schedule included a memorial service. The Kansas City Chiefs are recovering from an unspeakable tragedy that has altered an already difficult season, changed lives and provoked some questions that may never be answered.
As difficult as it may be, they must play again - this time on the road.
Still searching for normalcy one week after linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then drove to the team's practice facility and committed suicide, the Chiefs will return to the field today. They visit the Cleveland Browns, a team also touched by heartbreak after a member of its grounds-keeping staff took his life.
For Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, who had pleaded with Belcher to put down his gun, the pain and sorrow linger. Crennel, though, understands he must lead his grieving team.
"You can't go away from it. I'll never be able to go away from it," he said. "But in the business that we're in, we have to try to move on and we have to try to focus on our job. And that's the way life is."
Last week, the Chiefs (2-10) somehow managed to pull together and beat Carolina 27-21 and end an eight-game losing streak just hours after Belcher's death. It was an inspiring effort, commanded by Crennel, the well-respected former Browns coach who drew upon his upbringing as the son of a career military man and patient mother to get him through the trying ordeal.
Since the win, the Chiefs have tried to get back to their routines, but it's been very difficult. On Wednesday, their practice schedule was adjusted so they could attend a service for the 25-year-old Belcher.
Crennel knows the past week's events have taken their toll on his players, and it's possible that by today they could be completely spent.
"We have to be cognizant of that," he said. "Just like last week I was cognizant of the fact that I didn't know how we were going to handle it mentally. Like I told them, 'You are prepared to play a football game. You worked during the week, you've installed the game plan and you've practiced and you are prepared to play in the game. But mentally is the question can we put our tragedy aside for the few hours that we have to play and then still play?
"To their credit and to their character, they were able to put the misery aside, play a good football game and then come out victorious."
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Crennel, quarterback Brady Quinn, running back Peyton Hillis and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, all of whom were with the Browns (4-8).
At one point, Quinn was thought to be Cleveland's franchise quarterback. He was drafted by the Browns in the first round in 2007, and had some solid games for Cleveland before he was traded in 2010 to Denver - ironically for Hillis, who engaged in some back-and-forth trash talk with Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas this week.
Now, Quinn is returning to play his former team following the best game of his career. Putting aside his feelings and showing remarkable leadership, Quinn completed 19 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in Kansas City's win. He posted a 132.1 passer rating and was the AFC offensive player of the week.
There couldn't be much tougher circumstances for a quarterback, and Quinn delivered. He showed his teammates the way for three challenging hours on the field.
Days later, Quinn wasn't sure where he summoned the strength for the performance.
"My thoughts and concerns were just trying to focus and do the best I can during the game while I was playing," he said.
It was after the game when Quinn made a bigger impression.
As he described dealing with his emotions, Quinn poignantly spoke of how people should do more to help their neighbor and strengthen the relationships they have in their lives. His from-the-heart comments struck a nerve and were widely applauded.
"It was something from my experience of growing up in an age when you didn't even have a cell phone when you were in junior high, and now it's like every kid's got a cell phone and every kid's on the Internet," he said. "The relationships you have with people face to face on a daily basis kind of gets brushed aside for everything else that's out there."