When the host Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots meet on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y., whatever happens between the hash marks will be the last thing many players, coaches and fans care about.
Damar Hamlin, the 24-year-old Bills safety who went into cardiac arrest during Buffalo’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, will be at the forefront of hearts and minds.
Good news came Thursday when Buffalo announced that Hamlin has shown “remarkable improvement” and “appears to be neurologically intact” despite remaining in critical condition.
“He’s a beautiful, unique soul,” Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins said of Hamlin while wearing a hat with the logo of Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation, which has now raised over $7 million for a toy drive. “He’s a true person.”
Every team across the league has been offering their support, too, and the Patriots (8-8) were no exception.
New England owner Robert Kraft and the team donated to Hamlin’s charity, and several players took to social media to offer their well wishes to Hamlin and his family.
“It seemed like the care that was given was very prompt and good, and thankful for that,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Life’s bigger than this game. This is one of these humbling moments for all of us that stands out.”
While a date to resume the Bills-Bengals game — if it is at all — hasn’t been announced by the league yet, Bills head coach Sean McDermott all but confirmed his players are ready to play football on Sunday.
McDermott said Thursday that Mario Hamlin, Damar’s father, told Bills players to focus on Sunday’s regular-season finale because it is what Damar Hamlin would want.
And there’s a lot on the line for both teams.
For the Patriots? Win and they’re in.
However, the Patriots can also punch their ticket to the playoffs with losses from the Dolphins and Steelers and a win from the Jaguars should they lose on Sunday.
“We’re in a one-game season and need to play well against one of the most explosive offenses and certainly one of the top players in the league,” Belichick said. “They got several good players, but (Josh) Allen by himself is a tough matchup for any player, any defense.”
Buffalo (12-3) isn’t under nearly as much pressure, as it has already guaranteed itself at least one game beyond Week 18.
The Bills still have a shot to lock down the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but it would mean beating the Patriots and finishing off their game against the Bengals with a victory. There’s no guarantee they’ll get that chance. A No. 1 seed would also require the Kansas City Chiefs to lose against Las Vegas on Saturday.
Safety Jordan Poyer might not be able to help the Bills just quite yet after he missed Thursday’s practice with a knee injury. Allen (ankle), tight end Dawson Knox (hip) and linebacker Matt Milano (knee) were among those limited.
Defensive lineman Davon Godchaux was a non-participant at the Patriots’ Thursday practice due to an illness. Wide receivers Jakobi Meyers (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (concussion) were limited, as were defensive backs Marcus Jones (concussion) and Myles Bryant (shoulder).
–Field Level Media