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Chiefs claim emotional win over Panthers; Patriots, Texans, Broncos clinch playoff berths

Players huddle in prayer following the Kansas City Chiefs 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium on December 2, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in the victory over their Carolina Panthers. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak during one of the most difficult seasons the franchise has ever experienced. The win came just one day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel looked on.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Against the backdrop of an unthinkable tragedy, the Kansas City Chiefs gave themselves a reason to be proud Sunday — and perhaps the impetus to let the healing begin.

Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in the Chiefs' 27-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak during one of the most difficult seasons the franchise has ever experienced.

The game was played one day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel looked on.

Pioli walked through the press box before the game and said he was doing "OK," though he didn't stop to talk. Crennel was on the sideline coaching his team to an uplifting victory.

"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 corner of his eyes. "We're football players and football coaches and that's what we do, we play on Sunday."

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 were heading to Kansas City on Saturday.

DeAngelo Williams added 67 yards rushing for the Panthers, carrying the load with Jonathan Stewart out with an injury. Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Louis Murphy caught their TD passes.

"You definitely feel for them. What they are going through is tragic," Olsen said. "But we have a job to do. Our job is to come here and prepare to win. They wouldn't expect any less."

Chiefs players plan to start a fund for Belcher's daughter Zoey who is staying with a family member. James Brown, host of "The NFL Today" on CBS, said Belcher's mother currently has custody of the child.

Speaking to the puzzlement many have expressed in the wake of the murder-suicide, Brown said: "One of the things I'm learning from working with this whole domestic violence and prevention issue by way of the Verizon Foundation is oftentimes there's no discernible reason why, but there's some deep-seeded attitudes and clearly, there's going to be a lot more to come out of this and I'm very careful not to speculate right now because the police have not talked about a motive as well."

Elsewhere in the NFL:

At Miami, Tom Brady had his least efficient game of the year and even threw an interception, but the New England Patriots took advantage of the Dolphins' mistakes to clinch their fourth consecutive American Football Conference East title with a 23-16 win.

A botched punt, roughing-the-punter penalty and fumble by Miami led to 17 New England points, and another penalty negated a Dolphins touchdown.

Brady finished 24 for 40 for 238 yards and was sacked four times. But with the Patriots nursing a 20-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, he led a 16-play drive that took more than seven minutes and led to a field goal.

The Houston Texans clinched their second straight playoff berth and set a franchise record for wins in a season by downing the Tennessee Titans 24-10.

Rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus recovered a fumble and had two sacks, and the Texans (11-1) remain tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NFL with their sixth straight win. After needing overtime the past two games, the Texans forced six turnovers and had six sacks of Jake Locker when they weren't batting down a handful of other passes.

Denver's Peyton Manning threw three touchdowns, including one to defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, to help the Broncos beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 and wrap up the AFC West.

The Broncos (9-3) won their seventh straight and the Tampa Bay (6-6) loss clinched the NFC South for Atlanta, which won on Thursday.

Manning threw for 242 yards. He now has 29 touchdown passes on the season, moving past Jake Plummer and John Elway for the most by a Denver quarterback in a single year.

Rookie Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in overtime after booting a 53-yarder as time expired in regulation to give the St. Louis Rams a 16-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

The winning kick allowed the Rams to avoid a second draw in three weeks against the National Football Conference West leaders.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson connected with Sidney Rice on a 13-yard touchdown with 7:33 left in overtime to lift Seattle past the Chicago Bears 23-17.

The Seahawks (7-5) got their only other road win at Carolina.

The Indiana Colts edged the Detroit Lions 35-33 after Andrew Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery with no time left to lift Indianapolis, while James Starks had Green Bay's first rushing touchdown in almost two months to overcome a monster day by Adrian Peterson in the Packers' 23-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Shaun Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton scrambled up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown with 4:11 left to give the Bengals a 20-13 win over the San Diego Chargers.

In other games, the Cleveland Browns beat the Oakland Raiders 20-17, the New York Jets edged the Arizona Cardinals 7-6, the Buffalo Bills downed the Jacksonville Jaguars 34-18 and the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 38-33.