By DAVE SKRETTA, Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — This should have been a big week for Brady Quinn.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is coming off one of the best games of his career, helping his team win for only the second time this season. He's heading back to Cleveland, where he washed out as a first-round draft pick, brimming with confidence in his strong right arm.
But as with the rest of the Chiefs, everything in Quinn's world has been cast in shadow.
Rather than going to a postgame news conference and answering questions with pride, he stood before the bank of television cameras and talked about a tragedy. It had been barely 24 hours since linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself.
The way Quinn handled the situation was almost universally praised, and showed the kind of leadership ability that so far in his NFL career he's yet to truly replicate on the field.
"Well, Brady has been very level-headed all along," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "He handles himself very well, and as a quarterback, he is somewhat a born leader, because you have to be a leader to be a quarterback. And he displayed that leadership last weekend."
There were plenty of expectations placed on Quinn when he was drafted by the Browns out of Notre Dame. Perhaps the weight of them proved to be too much, because he never managed to lead a franchise that only now is coming out of a morass to much success.
He was eventually dealt to Denver, where he couldn't climb over Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow on the depth chart. So when free agency hit, Quinn packed his bags and headed for Kansas City, where he hoped the tenuous grasp that Matt Cassel had on the starting job would prove him an opportunity.
It didn't come until Cassel sustained a concussion, allowing Quinn to move into the lineup. He showed plenty of rust in a loss at Tampa Bay, and then sustained his own concussion the following week against Oakland, putting Cassel back under center.
But once Quinn was cleared to play, he was back leading the Chiefs.
On the field and, more importantly, away from it.
"I feel like I can do a decent job of adjusting to pretty much anything," Quinn said. "I don't know. I think anytime you have an opportunity to play more and get more experience, you're going to continue to grow and improve as a player."
The Chiefs weren't even certain they'd have a game Sunday until hours after Saturday morning's shootings, when team captains voted to play their game against the Carolina Panthers as scheduled.
The team arrived at Arrowhead Stadium long before kickoff, went through the same pre-game routine as usual — save for a moment of silence to remember victims of domestic violence. Then the game started, and for just a few hours on an unseasonably warm afternoon, things seemed normal.
The coaching staff relayed plays to Quinn, he crouched behind center and read the defense. He took the snap, dropped back and kept finding open receivers. Again and again, all day long.
He completed 19 of 23 passes for 201 yards, the best completion percentage of his career in a game he's started. Quinn threw touchdown passes to Jon Baldwin and Tony Moeaki without throwing an interception, the first scoring tosses he'd thrown since Dec. 6, 2009, when he was with the Browns. His quarterback rating of 132.1 was the second-best of his career.
"He had an outstanding game," said Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
It was after the game that he was truly outstanding, though.
The locker room was opened and players were forced to speak publicly for the first time about a pair of shootings that changed their lives. There were tears mixed with mud on many of their faces, but not the tears of joy over ending an eight-game losing streak.
As usual, the quarterback was summoned to the microphone in the auditorium just outside the locker room, and there Quinn was asked about the incident the previous day.
"I don't think anybody ever imagines waking up the day before a game and, you know, getting informed that a player, a leader on your team, has done something like that," he said.
Speaking from his heart, Quinn continued on.
"I think trying to understand the situation was tough, or getting a sense of what happened and who it will now affect," he said. "In moments, tragedies like this, they can define you or redefine you, and I think this team took an event and allowed it to redefine us as a team. We were battling through a lot of emotions, a lot of difficulty on the field, and guys stepped up and played a heck of a game."