The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals game Monday was suspended after Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter. As of Tuesday afternoon, Hamlin remained in critical condition.
The Bills announced early Tuesday morning that Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest. His heartbeat was restored on the field before he was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further testing and treatment. The Bills also said that Hamlin was sedated and added Tuesday afternoon that he spent the night in the intensive care unit.
“We are grateful and thankful for the outpouring of support we have received thus far,” the team wrote on Twitter.
A second-year player out of Pittsburgh, Hamlin tackled Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins after a 13-yard gain. It was a non-descript play. Hamlin stood up but collapsed to the ground.
An ambulance was brought onto the field. Hamlin was administered CPR for nearly 10 minutes and, according to play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, placed on a stretcher. Prior to going into the ambulance, he was given oxygen.
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On Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the game would not be continued this week.
“Everyone in our community is praying for Damar Hamlin,” the NFL Players’ Association said in a statement Monday. “We have been in touch with Bills and Bengals players, and with the NFL. The only thing that matters at this moment is Damar’s health and well being.”
Every team in the NFL joined together in solidarity on Twitter for Hamlin, changing their respective profile pictures to a royal blue image that says, “Pray for Damar.” The logo also features No. 3, Hamlin’s jersey number for the Bills.
The NFL and NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) also changed their profile pictures, writing, “For Damar” and “We’re with you Damar,” respectively.
On Tuesday, Hamlin’s family released a statement, saying “your generosity and compassion mean the world to us.” The family said they would pass along updates on his status as they have them.
“We are deeply moved by the prayers, kind words, and donations from fans around the country,” the statement said. “We also want to acknowledge the dedicated first responders and healthcare professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who have provided exceptional care to Damar. We feel so blessed to be part of the Buffalo Bills organization and to have their support.”
NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said Bills and Bengals players were “traumatized” by what they witnessed on the field, and both teams were in alignment about not finishing Monday’s game.
“There was no time period for the players to get warmed up,” Vincent said. “Frankly, the only thing that we asked was that (referee Shawn Smith) communicate with both head coaches to make sure they had the proper time inside the locker room to discuss what they felt like was best.
“So, I’m not sure where (the thought that the game would quickly resume without a break) came from. Five minutes, warm-up, that never, never crossed my mind, personally. And I was the one — I’m saying ‘I’ not to be selfish, but the one that was communicating with the commissioner. It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive, and that’s not a place that we should ever be in.”
The faces of players from both teams told the story. Bills quarterback Josh Allen was visibly shaken, and players from both teams surrounded the ambulance.
Some players were on their knees, while others openly wept.
After Bills head coach Sean McDermott met with his Bengals counterpart Zac Taylor, both teams left the field and referee Shawn Smith announced the game had been temporarily suspended.
“Neither coach, frankly, was talking about resuming play and the players weren’t. … It was really about Damar,” Vincent, who played in the NFL from 1992-2006, said on the conference call. “I’ve never seen anything like it since I’ve been playing. So immediately my player hat came on. How do you resume play after you seen such a traumatic event occur in front of you in real time. And that’s the way we were thinking about it. The commissioner and I and others.”
What transpired was traumatic for every player in the NFL. The league office recognized that.
In a memo addressed to the leadership of all clubs, Goodell recapped that night’s main events and offered additional mental health support from the league.
Each team’s director of player engagement and team clinician heard from NFL vice president of wellness and clinical services Nyaka NiiLampti about existing resources in place as well as additional on-site options if requested.
Cameras showed the two coaches meeting once again in the stadium’s tunnel (and passed a cell phone between each other) and players began coming out of the Bills’ locker room. Bengals captains Joe Burrow, DJ Reader, Ted Karras and Joe Mixon went toward the locker room as well. Before the official announcement from the league, the Bills’ equipment staff began packing up the sideline. Finally, at 10 p.m. ET — one hour and five minutes after Hamlin collapsed — the game was called.
There was no information on whether the game would be continued. Asked by reporters how the game could be rescheduled, NFL VP of communications, public affairs and policy Jeff Miller declined to provide a contingency plan and desired to keep the emphasis on Hamlin’s condition.
“Not in consideration right now,” Miller said. “Our concern is with the player and his well-being. At the appropriate time I’m sure we’ll have a conversation around the next steps regarding the game.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Goodell announced that the game would not be resumed this week. The NFL has made no decision regarding a potential resumption at a later date.
At one point, the broadcast reported that teams had five minutes to warm up prior to the restart of the game. On the conference call later that night, Vincent said he did not know where that figure came from since the game was not going to continue.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Vincent said. “Frankly, there was no time period for the players to get warmed up. Frankly, the only thing that we asked was that (referee) Shawn (Smith) communicate with both head coaches to make sure they had the proper time inside the locker room to discuss what they felt like was best. So I’m not sure where that came from. Five-minute warmup never crossed my mind, personally.
“It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. And that’s not a place that we should ever be in.”
In a statement Tuesday, ESPN said: “There was constant communication in real time between ESPN and league and game officials. As a result of that, we reported what we were told in the moment and immediately updated fans as new information was learned. This was an unprecedented, rapidly-evolving circumstance. All night long, we refrained from speculation.”
Joe Buck told the New York Post the information came from ESPN’s rules expert John Parry, who was in communication with the league (and was actually the one who relayed the news that the game had been temporarily suspended).
The Bengals led 7-3 in the first quarter of the game between two teams vying for the top playoff seed in the AFC.
Cincinnati entered at 11-4 and leading the AFC North by one game over Baltimore, while AFC East champion Buffalo was 12-3.
A local standout
Hamlin, 24, was a local standout who attended the University of Pittsburgh from 2016-2020. He led the Panthers in tackled and passes defended during his final season and was named All-ACC second team. The Bills selected him in the sixth round of the 2021 draft, and he appeared in appeared in 14 games his rookie season.
Hamlin took on a much larger role during the 2022 season and has started all but the first two of Buffalo’s games this season.
Each week, the league runs through its emergency action plan with all 32 clubs, Vincent said. Every stadium rehearses a medical situation such as this one annually. The plan is also brought up at the pregame meeting between coaches.
Part of the plan involves having a Level 1 trauma center — designed to address the most serious medical emergencies — active in each home market. The plan also calls for an ambulance in each stadium, as well as an airway management physician on-site.
What is next?
Several Bills players remained in Cincinnati to be close to Hamlin. The rest of the team returned to the team’s headquarters in Orchard Park, New York, early Tuesday morning.
Some members of the Bengals, including head coach Zac Taylor, stopped by the hospital to continue offering support.
“We also want to thank Coach Taylor and the Bengals for everything they’ve done,” Hamlin’s family said in their statement.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.