The NFL pushed ahead Tuesday with a difficult balancing act, navigating players' emotions after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin's shocking cardiac arrest with a tight playoff schedule and emphasizing Hamlin’s health was its main focus.
The league informed the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals that their game, suspended Monday night, would not be resumed this week while the Week 18 schedule remained unchanged, for now.
No decision regarding the possible resumption of the pivotal Bills-Bengals game has been made. The game was suspended in the first quarter when Hamlin suffered the cardiac arrest after making a tackle.
The 24-year-old Hamlin remained in critical condition a day after the Bills said his heart stopped following the seemingly routine play. Hamlin tackled Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, who led with his shoulder, then briefly got up before collapsing.
Medical staff restored his heartbeat during frantic moments on the field before he was loaded into an ambulance. Players from both teams were crying and praying during an emotional scene in front of a national television audience.
“Damar experienced cardiac arrest and was promptly resuscitated by on-site club physicians and independent medical personnel, all of whom are highly trained in implementing the plans for medical emergencies,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter sent to all teams, and obtained by The Associated Press. “Damar was stabilized and transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, a Level One trauma center, where he remains in the ICU.”
Hamlin's uncle, Dorrian Glenn, told CNN and other outlets that Hamlin had to have his heart re-started twice — once on the field, and again after he arrived at the hospital. He said there were some encouraging signs for his nephew on Tuesday, such as doctors lowering the level of oxygen Hamlin needs from 100% to 50%.
Goodell informed the clubs that Dr. Nyaka NiiLampti had sent each team’s clinician and head of player engagement information about mental health and support resources available to players and staff.
“Additional resources including on-site services can be available for any club that wishes this assistance,” Goodell said.
Goodell told teams they would be promptly advised of any changes to this weekend’s schedule.
Several teams canceled media availabilities, including the New England Patriots. They are scheduled to face the Bills on Sunday.
The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars practiced ahead of their game to determine the AFC South champion on Saturday night.
“Oh, I don’t have no hesitation,” Titans two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said about playing. “But me personally, it’s one of them things when you get shook up.”
Simmons said his 15-year-old cousin, Jason “JJ” Hatcher, died Dec. 18 from a heart issue during a football practice. The teen, who was a sophomore at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas, is the son of former 10-year NFL veteran defensive end Jason Hatcher, who spent the last eight seasons of his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Simmons received a call informing him of his cousin’s death before the Titans played a late afternoon game in Los Angeles, a 17-14 loss to the Chargers.
“We just can’t take this game for granted because you never know,” Simmons said. “Sometimes we just get sidetracked. ... But the real reason why we play this game and sometimes we forget that, ... we’re playing for each other. We’re playing for our family. And most of all, just playing for ourselves because it’s all we’ve been knowing all our whole life."
“And I’m sure that young man, it’s all he knew his whole life,” Simmons said of Hamlin. "You just never know when your last night may be. So there’s just one thing you just can’t take for granted. And I’m praying for him and his family.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said they hadn’t had any discussions with the league about postponing this week’s games.
Aaron Rodgers, the reigning two-time NFL MVP, said he was “shook up."
“Your football mortality just comes right face to face. One of your brothers in the fraternity of the NFL is fighting for his life right now,” the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback said on his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” on YouTube and SiriusXM.
“I’ve been part of a few games where they’ve carted guys off and we’ve had players with neck injuries. It shakes you to the core. That’s injuries where they’re awake and alert, and many of them give thumbs up or what not, and it still shakes you. It’s like 10-, sometimes 15-minute delays on the field and, ‘All right, go back out and play,' even though your buddy might not ever play again and we’re hoping he can walk. It’s a weird feeling."
"In this situation, this is unprecedented, definitely in my time. ... I’ve never seen something where a player had to be given CPR on the field and supposedly didn’t have a pulse." Rodgers said. "I thought, ‘There’s no way. They’re going to go back in the locker room and then come out and play. What? That can’t happen.’”
The NFL disputed a television report that both teams were told to resume play after a five-minute warmup. “It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play,” league executive Troy Vincent said.
The Kansas City Chiefs practiced Tuesday for their Saturday afternoon game against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs (13-3) are battling with the Bills (12-3) and Bengals (11-4) for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Thus, the outcome of the Bills-Bengals game has major playoff implications. The Bills entered the game in the top spot while the Bengals had a chance to clinch the AFC North with a victory and also were in the mix for the No. 1 seed along with Kansas City.
The Bengals led 7-3 in the first quarter when the game was stopped. The NFL is scheduled to begin playoffs on Jan. 14. The No. 1 seed in each conference gets a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It’s uncertain how the league will handle seedings if the Bills-Bengals game isn’t concluded. The NFL could push the start of the playoffs back one week and eliminate the extra week in between the conference championship games and Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl Games are scheduled for Feb. 5.
NFL teams changed their avatars on Twitter to a blue Bills background with Hamlin's No. 3 and the words: “Pray for Damar.”
AP Pro Football Writers Teresa Walker and Mark Long and AP Sports Writers John Wawrow, Steve Megargee and Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
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