ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bills coach Sean McDermott had to pause to hold back his tears. Quarterback Josh Allen had to put his head down. The pair couldn’t conceal their emotions Thursday afternoon, speaking to the media for the first time since Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin’s collapse during Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.
As they fielded questions for nearly 40 minutes, McDermott and Allen took brief moments to collect themselves, occasionally getting choked up when reflecting upon the scary sequence that transpired.
Hamlin, a second-year player, collapsed on the field in the first quarter as a result of cardiac arrest. Team trainers resuscitated Hamlin via CPR and defibrillation, before an ambulance transported him to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has stayed in the intensive care unit.
Some questions, clearly harder to answer than others, required deep breaths. Others, such as the one about Hamlin’s bubbly personality, garnered smiles and even a chuckle.
The severity of Monday night’s events, along with the gamut of emotions that followed, begs the question: “Just a few days away from an actual game, do you truly believe in your hearts that the Buffalo Bills are ready to play a football game right now?”
McDermott began to speak, “Well, I’ll start … ”
His quarterback interjected.
“I do,” Allen said confidently.
“I do, as well,” McDermott echoed.
The Bills are scheduled to host the Patriots Sunday at 1 p.m. in what will be their final game of the regular season — and first since Hamlin’s collapse.
The NFL elected not to resume Monday night’s Bills-Bengals game, as it considers possible changes to determining playoff seeding. Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Kansas City remain all remained in contention for the AFC’s No. 1 spot. The decision to suspend, and eventually nix, Monday night’s game will have significant postseason ramifications, but McDermott stressed the team is not concerned.
“It pales in comparison to what unfolded,” he said. “We’re talking about human life. That’s the most important thing.”
The Bills have been told Hamlin’s collapse was “the freakiest of freak accidents.”
Still, taking the field again will not be easy. Allen acknowledged it will be difficult to not let the images from Monday night creep into the back of his mind come Sunday. But he stressed the importance of teammates reminding one another to buy in mentally. If they’re focused on the incident, then they’re putting themselves even more at risk.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say some people are going to be changed forever after being on the field, witnessing that, and feeling those emotions,” Allen said. “The best way that we can continue to move forward — obviously, the updates we keep getting on Damar really lift our spirits — is leaning on each other, talking to each other.”
The NFL has not discussed the possibility of postponing Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game, with all Week 18 games set to take place as scheduled. Vice president of football operations Troy Vincent indicated Wednesday the league is open to the possibility, if necessary, deferring to McDermott and the Bills for guidance.
After receiving news Thursday that Hamlin’s condition has improved significantly, the Bills certainly sound gung-ho on playing.
“I feel strongly that this is what Damar would have wanted and wants,” McDermott said. “We owe that — and this is my opinion and my take on it — we owe that to Damar and we owe that to his family.”
Hamlin still cannot speak, only communicating via writing as well as nodding and shaking his head. Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head athletic trainer Nate Breske stayed behind in Cincinnati, as did Hamlin’s family. They, along with doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, have been relaying information on Hamlin’s status.
When Hamlin’s father, Mario, spoke to the Bills via video conference on Wednesday, he also made his stance clear: The team should go out there and play on Sunday.
“His message was the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals they had set for themselves,” McDermott said. “Damar would have wanted it that way — and I’m paraphrasing. That includes our game against New England this week.”
“The things that he told us — really didn’t tell us, he demanded us — you can’t not honor his request to go out there and charge forward to the best of our abilities,” added Allen. “To know that’s what he wants, that’s what his dad wants, I think guys here are excited to get out there.”
The Bills practiced Thursday after holding meetings and a walkthrough on Wednesday. The team, which was already operating on a short week because of the Monday night game, will have one more practice on Friday before Sunday’s game.
This week, the Bills have also made additional behavioral health counselors available. Players and staff already have access to an in-house counseling team, but the organization increased its resources following Monday night’s events.
McDermott and Allen emphasized that everybody will cope in their own way, so the team plans on providing support in whatever ways it can. The recent wave of positive news has undoubtedly helped the situation.
“Getting updates — and positive updates — eases so much of that pain and tension that you feel,” Allen said. “To know that Damar is doing OK — and I know there’s still a lot of things he has to continue to go through to get back to himself — there’s nothing that could have been told to us to bring our day down. We’re extremely happy for him and his family.”
Starting with their game against the Patriots on Sunday, the Bills will surely keep Hamlin in their thoughts as they try to push forward.
“We want to go out there and play for [No.] 3,” Allen said. “He’ll be a huge driving force.”