NFL Announces Bills-Bengals Game Will Not Be Rescheduled Following Damar Hamlin Injury

The NFL has officially canceled the “Monday Night Football” game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, which was suspended following a catastrophic injury to Bills safety Damar Hamlin.

Following a hit in the game’s first quarter, Hamlin collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest on the field; after the player was taken from the field by ambulance, game play was suspended. The league announced Thursday night that the game will not be resumed and outlined options for the upcoming playoffs.

“This has been a very difficult week,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a press release announcing the change. “We continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country. We are also incredibly appreciative of the amazing work of the medical personnel and commend each and every one of them.”

Before the news broke in the media, Goodell spoke with the Bills, the Bengals and NFL Players Association leadership and informed the other clubs of the final decision.

According to the release, key factors Goodell and the league considered when coming to this conclusion were: both teams were already in the playoffs; resuming the game would affect all 14 playoff teams by delaying their games by a week; and making the decision before Week 18 starts (on Saturday) is “consistent with our competitive principles and enables all clubs to know the playoff possibilities prior to playing the final weekend of regular season games.”

The announcement comes following a wave of positive updates on Hamlin’s condition from the UC Medical Center staff overseeing his care and Buffalo Bills coaches and players, both of whom gave their first press conferences earlier on Thursday.

According to the medical staff and Hamlin’s family, who also released a statement, the player has opened his eyes and shown “remarkable” signs of improvement, including holding the hands of his family members and written communication.

Among the first questions Hamlin asked, medical staff revealed, was “Who won the game?”

Their response: “You, Damar. You won. You’ve won the game of life.”

Bills coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen were among the Bills who spoke to the media, fielding questions about the team’s mental and physical state over the past few days.

“Being on that field” Allen said, choking back his brimming emotions. “You lose sleep. You hurt for your brother. A lot of shared grief … But getting updates — and positive updates — eases so much of that pain and tension that you feel.”

They also addressed their readiness to return to the football field for a game on Sunday against the New England Patriots, noting that Hamlin’s father, Mario Hamlin, spoke to the team via Zoom and encouraged them to move forward with the season.

“His message was that the team needs to get back to the goals they set for themselves. Damar would have wanted it that way,” McDermott shared, paraphrasing the conversation. “That starts with the Patriots game.”

While news of the Bills-Bengals game’s cancellation certainly seems like the logical and most sensitive conclusion to these fraught events, the matchup was highly anticipated (and played in primetime) because of its potential impact on the NFL playoffs, which begin on Jan. 14.

Both the Bills and Bengals teams had already made the playoffs, but the game would play a role in determining who would be the number one seed and ultimately host the AFC Championships, if either team (or the Kansas City Chiefs) make it that far in competition.

Now that the game has been canceled, the NFL will hold a special league meeting to consider whether the game might be held at a neutral site.

“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell noted. “I recognize that there is no perfect solution. The proposal we are asking the ownership to consider, however, addresses the most significant potential equitable issues created by the difficult, but necessary, decision not to play the game under these extraordinary circumstances.”

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