NFL primer: Fans in Las Vegas cheer in support of Damar Hamlin as play resumes


Fans in Las Vegas cheered for Damar Hamlin during a pregame show of support for the Buffalo Bills safety and his family Saturday, as the NFL returned to the field following one of the most sobering weeks in its history.

The Raiders hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in the first of the day’s two games. Players wore “Love For Damar 3” shirts during pregame warmups, referencing Hamlin’s No. 3 jersey. The Raiders had the “3” outlined in blue at each 30-yard line at Allegiant Stadium. Players on the field joined the fans in the pregame ovation, prompted by an announcement within the stadium.

The Tennessee Titans play at Jacksonville on Saturday night. Both games have major playoff implications. But football considerations meant little in recent days after Hamlin had to be resuscitated on the field by medical personnel during Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.

“I know this was a trying week for everyone,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday.

By week’s end, there were highly encouraging signs in Hamlin’s recovery after he collapsed during the first quarter Monday and suffered cardiac arrest on the field. His doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Thursday that he was making substantial and remarkable progress. He had use of his hands and feet and was able to communicate by writing messages on a pad, they said, adding that his neurological function appeared to be intact.

By Friday, doctors had removed Hamlin’s breathing tube and he spoke to Bills players and coaches by video call. The Bills said in a statement Saturday: “Per the physicians at UC Medical Center, Damar is making continued progress in his recovery yet remains in critical condition. He continues to breathe on his own and his neurological function is excellent.”

Goodell told fans in a written message Saturday that Hamlin’s “inspiring progress over the past few days has lifted the spirits of the entire NFL and football fans across the country.”

Goodell also wrote: “Seeing the entire NFL family — teams, players, coaches, and fans like you — band together was yet another reminder that football is family: human, loving and resilient …. I’m deeply hopeful that with his continued progress, there is a good chance Damar himself will be watching his teammates. We are grateful for and humbled by all who played a role as he continues on his road to recovery.”

Coach Sean McDermott said the positive updates about Hamlin’s recovery comforted the Bills and allowed them to prepare to play this weekend.

“That has certainly been kind of a release on the pressure valve a little bit that’s allowed more football to get into the channel,” McDermott said Friday.

Damar Hamlin spoke to his team after breathing tube was removed overnight

The Bills host the New England Patriots on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. But first, the Chiefs play for the AFC’s top seed Saturday and the Titans and Jaguars play for the AFC South title.

The Chiefs lead the Bills by a half-game in the race for the No. 1 seed and can clinch it with a victory over the Raiders. That would give the Chiefs the lone first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. But it would not necessarily guarantee them of home-field advantage through the AFC championship game.

The NFL decided Thursday not to reschedule the Bills-Bengals game, which was stopped in the first quarter and later postponed. The league’s team owners voted Friday to ratify changes to the playoff format, recommended by Goodell and approved Thursday by the NFL’s competition committee, by which the AFC championship game could be played at a neutral site under certain circumstances involving the Bills or Bengals reaching the game as the road team. Those scenarios will play out, in part, this weekend.

The stakes are much more clear-cut in the Titans-Jaguars game. The winner will claim the division title and host a first-round playoff game next weekend as the No. 4 seed. The loser probably is done for the season, though the Jaguars would retain some wild-card chances.

The Titans are on a six-game losing streak. They would be a below-.500 division winner, at 8-9, with a victory. The Jaguars have won four straight to even their record at 8-8. Doug Pederson, their first-year coach, has gotten improved results from second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top overall selection in the 2021 draft.

All teams have the option, the league said, to outline the “3” in blue or red at each 30-yard line. All players can wear the shirts for Hamlin during warmups. All teams have been encouraged to do as the Raiders did and hold a pregame moment of support for Hamlin this weekend.

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