Team Official: Bills and Bengals, Not NFL, Canceled Game After Damar Hamlin Collapse

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2023

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: The #3 of the 30 yard line marker is outlined in blue as a tribute to Damar Hamlin during the Sunday afternoon NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons on January 8, 2023 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There was no shortage of concern, confusion and uncertainty about what to do next after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was resuscitated on the field and hospitalized following a cardiac arrest during his team's Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN provided an inside look at the developments in an extensive report.

Most notably, it was apparently the players and coaches for the two teams, and not the NFL, who made the final decision to cancel the game.

"The league did not cancel the game," a team official said. "The Bills and the Bengals canceled the game."

Van Natta reported that Bills coach Sean McDermott, Bengals coach Zac Taylor, referee Shawn Smith, NFL chief football administrator Dawn Aponte and other team staffers were among those who gathered in the aftermath awaiting a decision.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent was in communication with the group, but the team official was not impressed with his decision-making as it took more than an hour to make an official call.

"The league screws this s--t up because Troy Vincent screws this stuff up," the official said. "That's the wrong person in the wrong position at the absolute wrong time ... He wants to be the hero, but he will never take accountability. That's him to a T."

Van Natta noted ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast reported the teams were at first told they would have five minutes to warm up before resuming play.

Yet Vincent denied that suggestion.

"We never, frankly, it never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play," he said. "That's ridiculous. That's insensitive, and that's not a place that we should ever be in."

The game was initially postponed and finally canceled, and the emotional responses to the situation from players, fans, coaches and more across the league became the dominant NFL storyline leading up to the Week 18 contests.

Hamlin has since shown tremendous progress and was transferred from the hospital in Cincinnati to one in Buffalo on Monday.

Cameron Wolfe of NFL Network reported the safety "hit a lot of key milestones. He's been walking the unit with regular diet and undergoing physical therapy. Doctors saw everything they needed to see to clear him to return safely to Buffalo."

Cincinnati ended up defeating the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18, while the Bills handled the New England Patriots.

As a result, the Bills are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and will face the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs. The Bengals will host the Ravens in an AFC North showdown.

The NFL made a number of adjustments because the Bengals and Bills ended up playing one fewer game than the rest of the league. One such adjustment was determining the AFC Championship Game will be played in a neutral site if the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs and Bills each reach that stage.