Arrowhead Stadium will be a somber place to be Sunday afternoon when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Carolina Panthers.
Just over 24 hours after LB Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend then drove to the practice facility and killed himself in front of GM Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs are going to be asked to try and snap an eight-game losing streak.
The grieving team will be facing a Carolina squad that has won two of their last four and nearly upset a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in overtime.
Not only will the Chiefs have to take the field with heavy hearts, but could be without the services of Kendrick Lewis, Branden Albert, Tamba Hali and Ryan Lilja. Lewis is doubtful with a shoulder injury, while the other three are all questionable.
What the Chiefs will have is each other and maybe just as importantly, a fan base that is ready to come together and support their team during this difficult time. Crennel and his captains got together and decided they wanted to be out on the field Sunday together and fight as a team, even if they are forced to do it one man short.
Though the final results of football games in times like these matter little, here are the three players to keep your eyes on as the Chiefs try to pick up their second victory of the season.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
If there’s one thing we know about this team after 11 games, it’s that Charles is still as good as he’s ever been. We also know the Panthers are one of the worst in the league at stopping the run, which means a heavy dose of the running game can keep Kansas City close.
Charles has had more than 20 carries just four times this season, but count on Sunday afternoon being the fifth. Though it would help if he were able to get involved in the passing game too, something offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has completely neglected.
There’s no better day than Sunday for one of Belcher’s closest friends on the team to turn in his biggest game of the year.
Defense: Derrick Johnson
The leader in the clubhouse for the Chiefs MVP this season has to be Johnson. Through all of the team’s struggles, the linebacker has continued to fly around the field and now he’ll need to be a rock for the defense like never before.
Belcher played his entire career next to Johnson, so there isn’t anyone that will be hurting more than the Chiefs leading tackler. Expect to see an even more emotional Johnson than usual, which could be bad news for Cam Newton and the Panthers offense.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
There are no shortage of reasons for an ugly 1-10 record, but special teams play is right at the top of the list. Both return units have been terrible and with a few more big returns, the Chiefs could easily be staring at three or four wins.
Making matters worse, the few times a Chiefs returner has produced good field position, an inept offense hasn’t known how to handle it. Kansas City is well overdue for a return touchdown and there’s no better option than Arenas.