NFL Says Buffalo-Cincinnati Game In Which Player Collapsed Won’t Be Resumed

Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals players react to an injury sustained by Damar Hamlin #3 of the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on January 2, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
(Image credit: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

The National Football League announced that Monday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals — in which Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest — will not be completed.

Hamlin needed to have his heart restarted on the field and was rushed to the hospital. He is in critical condition but has “shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours,” the team said. He is holding hands with visitors and is able to write messages.

Hamlin had his breathing tube removed Friday and addressed his teammates via Facetime, according to the Buffalo Bills' Twitter account.

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The game, a Monday Night Football telecast airing on ESPN and ABC, was suspended in the first quarter. Because it had implications for the NFL playoffs, the league was looking for ways to finish the game. But the league said it will not be finished and said a potential AFC Championship game between Buffalo and the Kansas City Chiefs might be played on a neutral site because the two teams will not have played the same number of games, throwing off the way the league normally determines home-field advantage during the playoffs.

The AFC Championship Game is historically one of the highest-rated broadcasts of the year.

If the Bills and Chiefs wind up meeting in a Wild Card game, home field will be determined by a coin toss. 

“This has been a very difficult week,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country. We are also incredibly appreciative of the amazing work of the medical personnel and commend each and every one of them.”

The decision not to play the conclusion of the game was reached by the league after talking with the teams and the NFL Players Association.

The league laid out three reasons for not playing the game:

  • Not playing the Buffalo-Cincinnati game to its conclusion will have no effect on which clubs qualify for the postseason. No club would qualify for the postseason and no club will be eliminated based on the outcome of this game.
  • It would require postponing the start of the playoffs for one week, thereby affecting all 14 clubs that qualify for postseason play.
  • Making the decision prior to Week 18 is consistent with our competitive principles and enables all clubs to know the playoff possibilities prior to playing the final weekend of regular season games.

Among the key factors in arriving at this decision:

“Cancelling the game between the Bills and Bengals creates potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios,” the league noted. “In an effort to mitigate those inequities, NFL clubs will consider tomorrow in a Special League Meeting a resolution recommended by the Commissioner and approved today by the Competition Committee, consisting of two elements: 

“The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site if the participating teams played an unequal number of games and both could have been the number one seed and hosted the game had all AFC clubs played a full 17-game regular season. Those circumstances involve Buffalo or Cincinnati qualifying for the game as a road team.

“The second element comes into play If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati in Week 18 it will have defeated Cincinnati, a divisional opponent, twice but will not be able to host a playoff game because Cincinnati will have a higher winning percentage for a 16-game schedule than Baltimore will for a 17-game schedule. 

“If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati and if those two clubs are scheduled to play a Wild Card game against one another, the site for that game would be determined by a coin toss. If Cincinnati wins the Week 18 game or if Baltimore and Cincinnati are not scheduled to play one another in the Wild Card round, the game sites would be determined by the regular scheduling procedures,“ the NFL said.

“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell said.  “I recognize that there is no perfect solution. The proposal we are asking the ownership to consider, however, addresses the most significant potential equitable issues created by the difficult, but necessary, decision not to play the game under these extraordinary circumstances.” ■

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.