BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Damar Hamlin has taken steps toward returning to team activities at the Bills’ practice facility two weeks after the defensive back went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated on the field during a game.
Coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday that Hamlin has been present “almost starting daily” but has not taken part in team meetings.
“Dipping his toe back in here,” McDermott said prior to the Bills’ walk-through session, “getting on the road to just getting back to himself.”
“It’s limited,” McDermott added. “Just trying to get back to a little bit of a routine and just get himself back acclimated again and take it one step, baby step at a time here.”
Hamlin’s presence has helped the Bills focus on this week’s game and alleviate the emotional residue from watching a teammate collapse and be transported from the field by ambulance, quarterback Josh Allen said.
“Everyone is chomping at the bit to talk to him,” Allen said. “It’s been good to see him have a smile on his face, and guys love having him back in the building.”
Center Mitch Morse said, “there’s a lot of reprieve from seeing him and carrying conversations, chewing the fat. He seems to be, I think, still physically very tired. But they guy’s in great spirits. And that also helps with the recovery process for all of us as well.”
The 24-year-old Hamlin continues what doctors have referred to as “a remarkable recovery” since his heart stopped after being hit squarely in the chest by Bengals receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter of a since-canceled game at Cincinnati on Jan. 2.
“That experience, we’ll carry that with us and there’s a challenge to that,” McDermott said. “There’s also a lot of good that came from that, as opposed to the other piece of it right now.”
Hamlin spent his first two days at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center under sedation and breathing through a ventilator. Upon being awakened, Hamlin showed no signs of neurological damage and within four days of his arrival was breathing on his own as well as walking and talking.
He first interacted with his teammates on Jan. 6, when Hamlin appeared by videoconference from his hospital room. He flexed his muscles and spoke to them, saying, “Love you boys.”
Hamlin visited with teammates at the Bills’ facility on Saturday for the first time since being discharged from Buffalo General Medical Center.
“When people can put aside their agendas for the common good of accomplishing one goal we can be pretty good as a society in America, and in the world for that matter,” McDermott said.
Every other player on the 53-man roster participated in the walk-through, McDermott said, as the Bills prepare to host the Bengals on Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game. Safety Jordan Poyer (knee), cornerback Dane Jackson (knee) and defensive tackles Jordan Phillips (shoulder) and DaQuan Jones (calf) were limited. Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) was listed as a full participant after missing Buffalo’s wild-card round win against Miami.
The mood this week in Cincinnati was similarly upbeat after the Bengals were also left stunned by the sight of Hamlin collapsing after making what appeared to be a routine tackle of receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter.
“To see Damar getting healthier as time passes and see where it ended up, there is always going to be a strong connection between these two organizations, and that’s a good thing,” coach Zac Taylor.
Now it’s a matter of two teams who bonded on the field and in the locker rooms in a time of crisis by agreeing the Week 17 game could not proceed, essentially picking up where they left off. Rather than having the AFC’s top-seed hanging in the balance as it was supposed to be on Jan. 2, the stakes are even higher.
“It means there’s a ticket to the AFC championship on the line. That’s what this game means, and I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said about that,” Bengals center Ted Karras said. “It was shocking circumstances that happened when they were here. I’m glad everything worked out great. … Now it’s a win or go home scenario.”
Poyer is looking forward to the challenge.
“I don’t think it should be any different than any other game that we’ve been in,” Poyer said. “Two really good teams that want to win. It’s the playoffs. And so we’re expecting a really great atmosphere, and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
The one issue facing both teams involves game-planning, and whether to go with a similar approach as three weeks ago. The Bills only had one possession, which ended with a field goal. The Bengals, who led 7-3 on Joe Burrow’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd, were on their second offensive series and led 7-3 when the game was called off.
“I think you’ve got to be careful about digging too much, trying to uncover this or that, because we spent a lot of time prior to our last game,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “You have to be carful of over-thinking it, over-analyzing it giving the players too much, and you end up not playing your best football.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.