Bills: Safety Damar Hamlin showing 'remarkable improvement'

John Wawrow
AP Sports Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin has shown what physicians treating him are calling “remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours,” the team announced Thursday, three days after the player went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field.

“While still critically ill, he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact,” the Bills said in a statement. “His lungs continue to heal and he is making steady progress.”

Hamlin’s agent, Ronald Butler, told The Associated Press that Hamlin was awake and has been able to grip the hands of family members at his hospital bedside.

MORE:Buffalo Bills' Hamlin in critical condition after suffering cardiac arrest on field

FILE - Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin (3) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. Hamlin was in critical condition early Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, after the Bills say his heart stopped following a tackle during the Monday Night Football game, which was indefinitely postponed. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper, File)

The developments came as the Bills were scheduled to return to practice on Thursday for the first time since Hamlin collapsed when his heart stopped after making a tackle and was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center during the first quarter of Buffalo’s game against the Bengals on Monday night.

The second-year player spent the past two days sedated and listed in critical condition.

Bills rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam posted a message Thursday on Twitter that said Hamlin “is doing better, awake and showing signs of improvement.”

The Bills' announcement comes as they prepare to play a home game against the New England Patriots, and with the team still dealing with the shock of seeing their teammate collapse on the field, his heart not beating.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick called the update on Hamlin's health encouraging.

“Life is bigger than this game. And I think this is one of those humbling moments for all of us," Belichick said.

As to how his players were dealing with preparations for the game scheduled for Sunday, he said they are navigating it by the moment.

“I think we’re all doing the best that we can,” Belichick said. "All of those questions are out of our control. I’m not going to worry about any of those. We’re trying to control what we can control. That’s what we’re doing here and how we’re doing it. And we’re doing the best we can.”

After returning home early Tuesday once the game was suspended, the Bills held meetings and a walkthrough practice without any media availability on Wednesday. On Thursday, players were spotted arriving at the facility, though the team has not yet released a practice schedule.

Numerous players across the league — former teammates and those who didn’t know Hamlin until Monday — voiced their support, while saying they were shaken by what unfolded in front of a North American TV audience.

Colts safety Rodney Thomas made the two-hour drive from Indianapolis to Cincinnati on Tuesday just to be by the side of his former high school teammate.

“He’s a fighter. I know he’s a fighter and there’s no other thought in my mind other than him walking out under his own power,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who spent the previous four seasons playing for Buffalo, had dinner delivered to the hospital for Hamlin’s family and medical staff.

Hamlin’s marketing representative, Jordon Rooney, said Wednesday that the player’s family was buoyed by the words and acts of kindness.

“They are elated right now,” Rooney said. “Damar is still their first concern. But for them, they always look at how they can turn a somewhat troubling situation into a good one. The bounce back from this, for him and his family is going to be incredible.”

What remains unclear is whether the NFL will reschedule the Bills’ game against the Bengals, which has major implications in determining the top spot in the AFC. The playoffs are set to open on Jan. 14.

The Chiefs (13-3) have a half-game lead over Buffalo (12-3), with the Bills owning the tiebreaker after beating Kansas City this season. The Bengals (11-4) are currently the third seed and have also defeated the Chiefs.

Hamlin was hurt in the first quarter when he was struck squarely in the chest while making what appeared to be a routine tackle of Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin briefly got up and adjusted his facemask before collapsing backward.

Hamlin was selected by Buffalo in the sixth round of the 2021 draft out of Pitt. He spent his rookie season limited to special teams roles, and took over the starting safety job in Week 3 in place of veteran Micah Hyde, who remains sidelined by a neck injury.

Fans, team owners and players — including Tom Brady and Russell Wilson — have made donations to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation, which had raised more than $7 million by Thursday morning.

— AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Foxborough, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.