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The Bills-Bengals game looked like it might resume. Then the players left the field

Buffalo Bills players pray for teammate Damar Hamlin after he collapsed during the first half of their NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night. The game has been postponed indefinitely, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced.
Joshua A. Bickel
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AP
Buffalo Bills players pray for teammate Damar Hamlin after he collapsed during the first half of their NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night. The game has been postponed indefinitely, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced.

After Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during Monday Night Football's Bengals-Bills game, shocked players, coaches and fans abruptly saw the excitement of a primetime matchup replaced by a shared concern and hope: that Hamlin would survive the night.

Hamlin, 24, received CPR and other treatment on the field for more than nine minutes, as medical staff worked to save his life. He was then taken to a Cincinnati hospital where he remains in intensive care, listed in critical condition, the Bills said.

"His heartbeat was restored on the field," the team said early Tuesday.

The traumatic events played out in front of a packed Cincinnati Bengals stadium and a mass of TV viewers — many of whom spent Monday night sharing their prayers and wishes for Hamlin's recovery.

The medical emergency resulted in the NFL postponing the game — and as of early Tuesday afternoon, no potential date was announced to resume the contest. The situation has also raised questions about how the decision to halt the game was made, after ESPN and others initially reported players were told to prepare to take the field again after Hamlin left in an ambulance.

Here's a timeline of the events as they unfolded:

8:56 p.m. ET — Hamlin tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins around midfield, taking a hard hit to his chest. The time was recorded both by reporter Luke Jones of local TV station WKRC and a liveblog from Sporting News. At first glance, the play didn't seem unusual, as Hamlin initially stood up and adjusted his facemask — but he then collapsed, falling backward on the turf.

Medical personnel rushed to help Hamlin, and several players and coaches took a knee as the gravity of the situation became clear. He suffered the injury with nearly six minutes left in the first quarter.

The ESPN broadcast repeatedly cut to commercials — a standard practice during injury timeouts. When the program resumed, NFL players could be seen openly weeping as emergency medical staff clustered around the stricken athlete. ESPN announcer Joe Buck seemed stunned into silence along with everyone else.

"There's just nothing to say right now," Buck said at one point, as the cameras showed Bills coach Sean McDermott and players Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, their faces wracked with emotion and concern.

9 p.m. — An ambulance was seen backing rapidly across the field toward Hamlin at Cincinnati's Paycor Stadium, in a video posted by local sports reporter Joe Danneman of local TV station FOX 19.

"They are intensely working on Damar Hamlin," Buck said.

For more than 9 minutes, medical staff fought to help Hamlin, ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters noted. Buck confirmed that health workers had been performing CPR on Hamlin throughout the commercial breaks.

"The entire Bills team is out on the field right now," Salters said. "Several players are down on their knees, other players are holding hands, praying. You can just see the worried looks on their faces."

Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow and other Bengals also gathered near midfield. After minutes of hushed quiet in the stadium, brief applause broke out when Hamlin was seen on a stretcher.

9:12 p.m. — The ambulance took Hamlin off the field, according to Sporting News. The emergency vehicle then paused in the parking lot — apparently to give Hamlin's mother, who was at the game, time to ride in the ambulance with her son, Danneman reported.

"I have zero clue how anybody is expected to continue playing this game," The Athletic's Paul Dehner Jr., who is based in Cincinnati, tweeted. "What a horrifying scene that was."

Officials spoke to both coaches on their sidelines, Dehner added.

9:14 p.m. — "Players are coming back on the field and it looks like the game will continue," ESPN's Ben Baby reported. Burrow was seen throwing warmup passes, with his helmet back on.

But then Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor walked across the field to speak to his counterpart, McDermott.

"They've been given 5 minutes to, quote unquote, get ready to go back to playing," Buck said of the situation. "That's the word we get from the league and the word we get from down on the field, but nobody's moving."

9:16 p.m. — The game was temporarily suspended, Dehner reported.

"Looks like Sean McDermott, after talking to Zac Taylor, is gonna pull his team off the field," Buck said, just before the decision was announced in the stadium. Buck was then told on-air that NFL officials had decided the teams needed an opportunity to "regroup themselves."

The Bengals announced the suspension would hold "until further notification."

9:29 p.m. — "Zac Taylor just walked to the Bills locker room area and is waiting outside," Danneman reported, adding that Taylor and McDermott then jointly met with referees.

9:30 p.m. — The ambulance carrying Hamlin arrived at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Jones reported.

10 p.m. — "We have just received word this game has officially been suspended by the NFL," the Sporting News reported.

As questions lingered about the apparent initial plan to resume play, local TV station WCPO, which was carrying the game, noted that the five-minute warmup period is standard protocol after most delays.

"However, coaches Zac Taylor and Sean McDermott met and brought both of their teams back to their locker rooms," the station said. "They were seen in the tunnel between locker rooms meeting with the game officials and passing a phone to each other. Shortly after that phone call, the league announced play was to be suspended indefinitely."

The station also said that before the game was formally suspended, Burrow and other Bengals players had left their home locker room to join Bills players in the visitors' facility.

Football fans gather for a vigil at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for football player Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills, who collapsed after making a tackle during Monday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dylan Buell / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Football fans gather for a vigil at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for football player Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills, who collapsed after making a tackle during Monday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

10:01 p.m. — The NFL Players Association said its entire community "is praying for Damar Hamlin."

We have been in touch with Bills and Bengals players, and with the NFL," the union added. "The only thing that matters at this moment is Damar's health and well being."

10:07 p.m. — NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy tweeted a statement about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to postpone the game, saying "the NFL has been in constant communication with the NFL Players Association which is in agreement with postponing the game."

12:17 a.m. Tuesday — The NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that in a conference call with reporters after the game, Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, said that despite earlier reports, the league never sought to resume the game.

"There was no time period for the players to get warmed up," Vincent said, according to Garafolo. "It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That's ridiculous. That's insensitive. That's not a place we should ever be in."

1:48 a.m. Tuesday — Buffalo Bills issued a statement on Hamlin's medical status:

"Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition."

1:34 p.m. Tuesday — The NFL issued a statement saying the Bills-Bengals game will not be resumed this week — the 18th and final week of its season — adding that the league "has made no decision regarding the possible resumption of the game at a later date."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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