Analysis: Teammates gave Damar Hamlin the ultimate tribute

Jan 8, 2023, 12:55 PM | Updated: Jan 9, 2023, 9:26 am
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley wears a T-shirt to show support for Buffalo Bills sa...

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley wears a T-shirt to show support for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

              Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley wears a T-shirt to show support for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton (20) stands on the sideline during a pause in support of injured Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. The Steelers won 28-14. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)
            
              Buffalo Bills running back Nyheim Hines (20) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a kickoff return during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
            
              Buffalo Bills running back Nyheim Hines (20) celebrates after running in a touchdown on a punt return during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
            
              The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts gather on the field before their NFL football game in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
            
              A video board at Levi's Stadium shows a message for Damar Hamlin during an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

An emotional week for the NFL filled with fear, tears, prayer and uncertainty ended with exciting games, dramatic finishes and a celebration for Damar Hamlin.

When Hamlin left the stadium in Cincinnati in an ambulance Monday night fighting for his life, football didn’t matter. A pivotal game between the Bills and Bengals suddenly was irrelevant.

The primary concern for players, coaches, the league and fans around the world became Hamlin’s health. The 24-year-old Bills safety collapsed and went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle and needed to be resuscitated on the field in a scary scene witnessed by millions watching “Monday Night Football.”

For a couple of days, it was unknown when the NFL would resume playing. The league announced Wednesday that Week 18 was still on schedule, and Hamlin made remarkable progress in his recovery by Thursday. He spoke to teammates for the first time Friday, telling them: “Love you boys.”

Inspired by his motivational words, the NFL community returned to work filled with hope instead of heavy hearts.

The league honored Hamlin in various ways this weekend, dedicating all the games to him and recognizing the first responders and doctors who saved his life.

Then, players gave Hamlin the ultimate tribute with their performance.

Nyheim Hines returned the game’s opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in front of a charged-up crowd at Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium on Sunday.

“We’ve had so many prayers and so much support and to be able to start the game like that, it was amazing,” Hines said. “All that was for him. I felt like he was out there with us. …. This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than the 10 guys blocking for me.”

Hines did it again in the third quarter, taking a kickoff 101 yards for a go-ahead score in a 35-23 win over the New England Patriots that locked up the AFC’s No. 2 seed for the Bills (13-3).

The Bills hadn’t returned a kickoff for a TD since Oct. 20, 2019, a span of nearly three years and three months. No. 3 just happens to be Hamlin’s number and it was on display everywhere from Buffalo to Green Bay on outlines on the 30-yard line to T-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets worn by players and coaches across the league.

Josh Allen choked up talking about it.

“It was just spiritual,” Allen said. “I was going around to my teammates saying, ‘God’s real.’ You can’t draw that one up or write that one up any better. … Pretty cool.”

Another Josh Allen made the defensive play of the season for Jacksonville on Saturday night, returning a fumble 37 yards for a TD with 2:51 remaining to help the Jaguars beat Tennessee 20-16 and secure their first AFC South championship since 2017.

The Jaguars (9-8) completed a worst-to-first turnaround and became the third team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after starting the season 4-8 or worse.

On Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers (8-9) had a chance to become the fourth team to do it. But Aaron Rodgers threw an interception late in the fourth quarter and the Detroit Lions beat the Packers 20-16 to give the Seattle Seahawks (9-8) the NFC’s final wild-card spot.

Rodgers soaked in the atmosphere and slowly walked off Lambeau Field perhaps for the last time in his career with his arm around his buddy, wide receiver Randall Cobb.

Though he has two years remaining on a $150 million, three-year contract, there’s a possibility the 39-year-old Rodgers may retire or ask for a trade.

The offseason is the time to appreciate Rodgers’ career. This weekend was all about Hamlin.

___

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes speaks during an NFL football Super Bowl media avail...
Associated Press

Super Bowl has rare matchup of top 2 regular-season teams

This year’s Super Bowl features a rare matchup of the NFL’s top two teams from the regular season. The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs were the league’s only 14-game winners, marking just the sixth time since the 1970 merger that the squads with sole possession of the two best records in the regular season […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2020, file photo, the Olympic rings are reinstalled after it was taken down ...
Associated Press

Tokyo Olympic official, 3 others held in bid-rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — A senior official with the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and three company executives were arrested Wednesday in an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Games. Yasuo Mori, the Olympic official, was arrested along with Koji Henmi, who headed the sports division at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Two other business executives were also […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James appears to tear up after passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to bec...
Associated Press

LeBron sets NBA career scoring mark in Lakers’ loss to OKC

LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James became the NBA’s career scoring leader on a step-back jumper late in the third quarter, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record during his 38-point performance in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 133-130 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. James surpassed the mark held since April 1984 by Abdul-Jabbar, who […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James tosses powder in the air prior to the team's NBA basketball...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: LeBron James’ run to the NBA scoring record

Associated Press photographers have captured LeBron James for the entirety of his 20-year career, starting from when he was an 18-year-old rookie to now as a 38-year-old who just became the most prolific scorer in NBA history. That covers both his stints in Cleveland, his two championships in Miami, the third title when he returned […]
1 day ago
DELETES REFERENCE TO SHOT SETTING THE SCORING RECORD - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, lef...
Associated Press

Reaction to LeBron becoming the NBA’s career scoring leader

Reaction from social media and elsewhere poured in after LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. ___ “Congratulations to LeBron on breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sports by becoming the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, poses with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after passing Abdul-J...
Associated Press

Scoring King: James passes Abdul-Jabbar for NBA points mark

LeBron James got the first official statistic of his NBA career on a rebound. His next entry on the stat sheet was an assist. Even then, points weren’t the priority. They never were. Somehow, he became the most prolific scorer in NBA history anyway. It finally happened Tuesday night, the kid from Akron, Ohio, connecting […]
1 day ago
Analysis: Teammates gave Damar Hamlin the ultimate tribute