As Bills safety Damar Hamlin continues to make progress in his recovery after suffering a cardiac arrest during Monday's game against the Bengals, Buffalo prepared for its first game without him on the field. The team honored him Sunday afternoon ahead of and during their 35-23 win over the Patriots in more ways than one.
Members of the Bills came to the stadium wearing Hamlin-inspired apparel and donned "3" hats on the sidelines in honor of his jersey number. During pregame introductions, there was special acknowledgement at Highmark Stadium for the medical staff who helped save Hamlin's life Monday night. Then, the Bills came out of the tunnel waving multiple "Pray for Damar" flags and collectively held up the No. 3 with their fingers in a mid-field huddle.
Those plans were in addition to a league-wide initiative to honor and support Hamlin. Among the activations: a pregame moment of support for Hamlin, the first responders and medical caregivers; outlining of the "3" in each 30-yard line number on the field in either Buffalo Bills Red or Buffalo Bills Blue; and pregame shirts reading "Love for Damar 3." Support for Hamlin was widespread Saturday during the Chiefs-Raiders and Titans-Jaguars games.
The Bills (12-3) also wore a special "3" patch on their jerseys against New England (8-8) in a game that general manager Brandon Beane said this week will be "a celebration of life."
Hamlin felt the love all the way from Cincinnati and took to social media Sunday to send his appreciation to the players and teams honoring him.
Bills coach Sean McDermott told CBS Sports' Tracy Wolfson that he texted with Hamlin on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
"He's amazing. His sprit is so positive. He's gonna be locked in," McDermott said. "We'll be thinking of him for sure."
In addition to showing their support for Hamlin on the field, the Bills plan to pay Hamlin in full despite his placement Friday on injured reserve.
Though Hamlin's four-year, $3.64 million rookie contract contains a standard split to pay him at a lower rate if he lands on IR, Buffalo worked out an agreement with the NFL and NFLPA to pay his full rate for Week 18's games, Rapoport reported.
The Bills defensive back, 24, was set to earn $825,000 in 2022, with his split rate on injured reserve at $455,000. That's a difference of $20,555.56 for one week. Buffalo worked it out so he'll receive the whole thing, even though he's not on the active roster.
Hamlin posted Saturday on social media, in his first public comments since Monday's harrowing events, that the love he has received "has been overwhelming."
"When you put real love out into the world it comes back to you 3x's as much," Hamlin posted to his verified Instagram account. "I'm thankful for every single person that prayed for me and reached out. We brung the world back together behind this. If you know me you know this only gone make me stronger. On a long road keep praying for me!"
The Bills announced on Saturday that Hamlin remains in critical condition, but is making continued progress, per physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Hamlin has been under care since Monday night. The defensive back "continues to breathe on his own and his neurological function is excellent." Hamlin had his breathing tube removed Friday and has been able to talk to his family, his care team and the Bills. The second-year player addressed the team via FaceTime on Friday, telling them, "Love you boys."
Hamlin planned to watch Sunday's New England-Buffalo game from his hospital bed at UCMC, Rapoport reported, as the Bills attempted to lock up the No. 2 seed with their eyes on the postseason and their hearts with their teammate.