Bengals coach Zac Taylor addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during Monday night's Buffalo-Cincinnati game.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Damar Hamlin and his family, his loved ones, his teammates and coaches, the entire Bills organization," Taylor began. "We've always had a great deal of respect for them. I think that's grown much deeper, obviously, with what we've all seen transpire. So, certainly, we're pulling for Damar and hoping for the most positive outlook."
The Bills announced Thursday morning that Hamlin, 24, "has shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours" and "appears to be neurologically intact," per the doctors caring for him at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The frightening situation on Monday night began with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter, when Hamlin tackled Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins after a 13-yard catch. Hamlin got to his feet, then collapsed backward. Hamlin received CPR while on the field. According to the Bills, his heartbeat was restored on the field before he was transported in an ambulance to the UCMC for further testing and treatment.
Taylor commended the actions of both teams' medical and athletic training staffs, as well as the independent medical personnel who cared for Hamlin at Paycor Stadium.
"They were on it, they were composed," Taylor said Wednesday. "For me, personally, being down there and seeing the composure that everybody involved had, obviously not knowing how the situation was going to unfold, I was led to believe that it was going to be positive because of how they handled it. That's important to point out: that they were prepared and that they gave Damar the best chance."
The Bengals coach described the scene in Cincinnati after Hamlin received medical attention and was taken to the hospital.
"As our team made it on the field and you could see the reaction of the players that were out there and how they were impacted -- mostly their guys, a couple of our guys -- you could quickly see the seriousness of the nature, that it was different than anything we'd experienced," Taylor explained Wednesday. "And during those moments, all anyone's hoping for is a best-case scenario with Damar. No one's processing whether this game is going to be played or delayed -- that's not going through anyone's mind. I've seen the TV copies now, and everyone else was kind of forced to think that way because they're not down there in the moment, so people get a chance to process what's going to happen. That never crossed any of our minds. That was just, How is this player going to be OK?"
Taylor said as both teams were trying to process the situation on their own sidelines after Hamlin left the field, he decided to speak with Bills coach Sean McDermott and the officials and discuss a next plan of action.
"When I got over there, the first thing [McDermott] said was, 'I need to be at the hospital with Damar and I shouldn't be coaching this game,' " Taylor said Wednesday. "That, to me, provides all the clarity. 'Unprecedented' is the word that gets thrown out a lot about this situation because that's what it is, but in that moment, he really showed who he was, that all his focus was on Damar and being there for him and being there for his family at the hospital. And at that point, I think everything trended in the direction that it needed to trend. The right decisions were made there.
"I really felt Sean McDermott led in that moment for his players. He was there for his players, he processed it the right way, which was incredibly difficult and really helped us get to the solution that we needed to get to."
Taylor added that he did not feel "any directive" that players needed to start warming up to return to play before the game was suspended and eventually postponed.
"It was just, let's particularly give Buffalo space to process as a team because they had not done that. They had just been there for Damar," Taylor said. "... There was no push for anything to happen. It was just, let's let these moments play out and see what the next step is as people get a chance to get their minds right. And ultimately, that's what led to the decision there."
The NFL announced on Tuesday that the postponed Bills-Bengals game will not be played this week. On a Wednesday conference call with reporters, NFL EVP of communications, public affairs and policy Jeff Miller said no decision has been made on whether to resume the game at a later time, but the conversation has begun and the league plans to have a resolution in the coming days. The Bills (12-3) and Bengals (11-4), two of the top teams in the AFC playoff picture, are both involved in the discussions.
Taylor said that some players returned to the Bengals' facility Tuesday and were kept abreast of the situation with Hamlin. The Cincinnati coach planned to address the team later Wednesday. Taylor noted that Higgins, who was tackled by Hamlin before the Bills safety collapsed, has handled the situation "well."
The Bengals are scheduled to play the divisional rival Baltimore Ravens in Cincinnati at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Taylor acknowledged Wednesday how difficult it will be for the team to turn around and focus on football this week.
"One of the things I've taken from that is you do have to move forward as a team, because we do have a game to play on Sunday, and we do have to move focus towards that. But at the same time, you don't have to move past the situation that's happening right now," Taylor said. "And we can still provide support for the players that need more of that, for the family who's still two miles away here at University Hospital, for the Bills. So you're able to have space to do that, and at the same time, as a team, move forward to focusing on Baltimore on Sunday."