Bengals’ Boyd on return of Bills’ Hamlin to Cincinnati: ‘It’s going to be an honor to take the field with him’

CINCINNATI — When the Cincinnati Bengals take the field Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills, the environment of another primetime matchup between two perceived AFC contenders will no doubt bring back the eerie memory of what happened Jan. 2 when the teams last met at Paycor Stadium.

A sold-out game that was hyped as a battle for the AFC’s top seed for the playoffs was halted with 5:58 left in the first quarter after Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and needed resuscitated on the field.

Three days later, Hamlin awoke from the coma he was placed in to aid the healing process, but the Bengals and Bills both were forced to put emotions aside that week to prepare for their next games. Fortunately, the Hamlin story ended well. Almost nine months after his collapse, he completed his comeback with his first game appearance since that Week 17 game in 2022, and he remains on the active roster with a chance to play Sunday night.

Now both teams again are trying to put aside the memory of that horrifying sight they witnessed, as they meet in another potential playoff preview Sunday at Paycor Stadium.

“That’s a memory I probably will never forget, but I want to forget it in the same sense because something bad happened,” said Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who grew up in the same area of Pennsylvania as Hamlin, at different ages, and has become friends with him through their youth football connections and as former University of Pittsburgh players. “And just being able to see him get back on the field is going to be kind of emotional knowing that could have been his last game and that was one in a million chance that something like that can happen. He’s a great person. He’s loyal, he’s strong, he’s trustworthy, just an overall great guy. It’s going to be an honor to take the field with him.”

Hamlin returned to practices for the first time in May and played in the preseason but didn’t make his first official appearance since he played special teams in the Bills’ win over the Dolphins on Oct. 1. He has been inactive in the team’s seven other games.

Buffalo coach Sean McDermott told media any decision to play Hamlin this week will be a football decision, not an emotional one. Hamlin was out of practice Wednesday because of illness but returned to full participation Thursday.

Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson said the team hasn’t talked much about that Jan. 2 game, but it’s impossible to avoid this week.

“We’re just in that mindset right now of just taking it one day at a time, and when it comes, there will be a lot of emotions on both sides but hats off to him for making an incredible recovery,” Wilson said. “Obviously, a lot of prayers went out to him, and I’m just happy to see him even back on the sideline, so it really is a blessing.”

The teams met in a divisional round playoff game in Buffalo three weeks after their regular-season meeting was cut short, and the Bengals rolled to a 27-10 win in the snow. Even though this one feels different being back in Cincinnati, Bengals coach Zac Taylor believes both teams will come into the game focused on the task at hand, as they each are trying to improve their standing in the AFC.

Cincinnati (4-3) is trying for its first AFC win of the season after sweeping the NFC West for all four of their victories in 2023. The Bengals enter on a three-game win streak, while Buffalo (5-3) had extra time to prepare following a Thursday Night game Oct. 26, a 24-18 win over Tampa Bay.

Although the Bengals recognize the seriousness of what happened the last time Buffalo came to town, they are hoping to recreate the atmosphere that Monday Night crowd generated prior to Hamlin’s medical emergency completely silencing Paycor Stadium. Players and coaches said it was one of the most electric environments they had witnessed to that point.

“Sure, (it’s) in the back of your mind, yeah, but, I think both teams will be focused on getting our teams ready to play and going out there and having a special night,” Taylor said. “... I’ve had coaches on other teams that have played us in night games over the last three years praise the environment here. I think just the fan engagement, the pyrotechnics, all the things that happen, it’s impressive to us and it’s fun for us and it gives us great energy, but I think it’s really cool for other teams in the league when they come in here. And, and on top of that, just our fan support in these night games has given us a huge edge. And so Sunday night, I’m counting on this being the biggest and best one yet.”

Boyd said the players will rise to the occassion. What happened to Hamlin serves as motivation for him and others to take advantage of opportunities they are given and not take anything for granted. He won’t even mind if Hamlin ends up playing and tackling him.

“At the end of the day, it’s just football,” Boyd said. “I would just be happy for him to be out there playing, being able to take a hit or give a hit because of the situation he was in last (season). Like I said, it’s going to be an honor to go out and ... share the same field with him, knowing his competitive nature and how hard he’s going to go. It’s going to make me want to go a little harder just because of what his situation was.”


Bills at Bengals, 8;20 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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