The Buffalo Bills were holding meetings and a walk-through Wednesday before their Week 18 game against the New England Patriots – less than two days after Bills player Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a nationally televised game.
The 24-year-old safety has shown “signs of improvement” and remains in critical condition, the Bills tweeted Wednesday, while players, coaches and fans keep their focus on his recovery in the run up to the final weekend of the NFL’s regular season and the subsequent playoffs.
The emotions surrounding the return to the field were apparent during a teleconference Wednesday when Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, recalled watching video of the play in which Hamlin was injured more than 100 times.
“To the medical professionals, first responders to physicians to trainers, the EMTs (the response) that evening was outstanding. You gave our brother Damar another day to live, another chance to fight,” Vincent told reporters, his voice fading.
He added, “The only thing that mattered to myself, the team here, the folks in the stadium and the coaches was the health and wellness of Damar and getting those coaches back to the locker room so they can look their players in their eyes and see who they are. They were hurting. There was a lot of pain. And talking to the commissioner and communicating with everyone, it was just important. We just couldn’t play.”
No discussion of postponing Bills next game
Vincent said the NFL hasn’t discussed whether Sunday’s game between the Patriots and the Bills in Buffalo will be postponed.
The league will allow Bills coach Sean McDermott and his team and staff “to guide us if we have to make that decision,” Vincent added.
The league executive said he wants to ensure players on the Bills “have what they need to function” and that “they’re OK.”
As for Monday’s postponed game with the Cincinnati Bengals, Vincent said, “Everything is being considered.” Options include schedule changes, pushing back the playoffs a week or eliminating the bye week before the Super Bowl.
‘I need to be in the hospital for Damar’
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the emergency response was crucial that night.
“It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say that the skilled and the immediate response by all of these talented caregivers prevented a very tragic outcome at that moment,” Sills said.
The Bills will have no media availability Wednesday, the team said. New England also postponed Wednesday’s scheduled media availability, the Patriots said.
“The NFL has approved giving both the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots an extra day due to these unique circumstances,” the Patriots said.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor, speaking to reporters Wednesday before the first team meeting since Hamlin’s injury, recalled what McDermott said to him before the game was postponed: “The first thing he said was, ‘I need to be in the hospital for Damar. And I shouldn’t be coaching this game.’”
“In that moment he really showed who he was – that all his focus was just on Damar and being there for him and being there for his family at the hospital,” Taylor said of McDermott.
Taylor praised the team trainers, physicians and paramedics who tended to Hamlin on the field. “They were composed. It was obviously a complicated situation on the field that everybody was trying to process… I think that’s important to point out, that they were prepared and that they gave Damar the best chance.”
Hamlin’s heartbeat ‘was restored on the field’
Hamlin was sedated and on a ventilator Tuesday night at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, his uncle Dorrian Glenn told CNN. His collapse on the field halted the Bills “Monday Night Football” game against the Bengals. The Bills tweeted that Hamlin’s “heartbeat was restored on the field.”
The injury, which came after Hamlin’s tackle of a Bengals wide receiver, stunned a packed stadium and viewers across the nation – and brought new scrutiny to the National Football League and how it protects its players.
Most NFL teams are off Tuesday but some canceled limited availability that day following Hamlin’s injury. The rest of the league was expected to return to work Wednesday to prepare for the final games of the regular season, though the social media accounts of many NFL players remain focused on Hamlin.
It’s still unclear what led to the cardiac arrest.
Hamlin is on a ventilator to relieve strain on his lungs, which have been damaged, according to Glenn. The doctors told Glenn his nephew has also been “flipped over on his stomach” to help with the blood on his lungs.
Hamlin collapsed shortly after tackling Tee Higgins with about six minutes left in the first quarter. Monday’s game was postponed, with the Bengals leading 7-3, and will not be resumed this week, and no decision has been made on whether to ever continue it, the NFL said Tuesday.
The game has playoff implications: Both teams have clinched playoff spots but are jockeying for higher seeds in the American Football Conference. Securing the top seed means getting a week off while the six other AFC playoff teams compete.
The days after the injury have been marked by an outpouring of support for Hamlin and his family, with messages of prayers and well wishes from star athletes, fans and national leaders.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo to teams Tuesday that the heads of player engagement and team clinicians for all clubs have received information about mental health and support resources for players and staff.
CNN’s David Close and Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.