CINCINNATI — The Week 17 game between the Bengals and Bills has been canceled and will not continue, the league announced Thursday night.
Monday’s game was suspended with less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter when Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle. His heart rate was restored on the field before being transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“It’s been a very difficult week,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Thursday. “We continue to be focused on Damar Hamlin’s recovery and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family across the country. We are also extremely grateful for the incredible work of the medical staff and congratulations to each of them.”
Doctors said earlier today that Hamlin had shown “substantial improvement”, including communicating in writing and moving his hands and feet, although he remains considered seriously ill.
In announcing the decision to call off the game, the NFL cited three key factors: the outcome would not affect which teams qualified for the playoffs; playing the game would have changed the playoff schedule for the remaining teams; and not playing the game would allow all clubs to know post-season possibilities before the start of Week 18.
At the time of the stoppage, the Bengals were leading 7-3. NFL officials have argued the game was not scheduled to go ahead Monday after Hamlin collapsed and was taken to hospital.
Buffalo (12-3) entered Week 17 tied with the Kansas City Chiefs (now 13-3) for the AFC’s best record, but held the head-to-head tiebreaker. Cincinnati (11-4) trailed both teams by one game but would have held a three-way tiebreaker with a win over the Bills. The Bengals, now AFC North champions, beat the Chiefs in Week 13 in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game.
Due to the canceled game, league owners will vote on Friday – with 24 of 32 needed (three-quarters majority) to approve – on scenarios approved by the competition committee on Thursday that involve a neutral site for a league championship game. ‘AFC. These depend on the Week 18 results:
• If Buffalo and Kansas City win or tie, a Bills-Chiefs Championship Game will be played at a neutral site.
• If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, a Bills-Chiefs championship game will be played at a neutral site.
• If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, a Bills or Bengals vs. Chiefs championship game will be played at a neutral site.
Potential neutral sites have not yet been determined. The seeds will hold throughout the playoffs.
If Buffalo and Kansas City both win this weekend, the Chiefs will get the bye. If Buffalo wins and Kansas City loses, the Bills will be the No. 1 seed and get the bye, and no neutral site will come into play.
If the Baltimore Ravens win and face Cincinnati in an AFC wildcard game, the site will be determined by coin toss. If Cincinnati wins or the two teams don’t meet after a potential Ravens win, regular scheduling procedures will go into effect.
Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn is on the competition committee, which approved the scripts on Thursday. In a memo obtained by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, Blackburn urged committee members to vote down the scripts. His reasoning stemmed from the timing of a rule change from the standard payout percentages used in this scenario.
“The proper process for changing the rules (sic) is out of season,” Blackburn wrote. “It is not appropriate to put teams in a position to vote for something that may introduce bias, favor one team over another or impact their own situation when the vote takes place immediately before the playoffs. playoffs.”
In his statement, Goodell said he recognizes “there is no perfect solution.”
“When we looked at the football calendar, our principles have been to limit disruption in the league and minimize competitive inequalities,” he said.
On Wednesday, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the team is preparing to face the Ravens as the league considers the future of the Bills-Bengals game.
“We’ll let those decisions take place among those who want to make them,” Taylor said. “All that’s really ahead of us right now is getting ready for Baltimore on Sunday.”
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said postponing the game would be difficult.
“I think whatever Buffalo would want to do would be what we would want to do too,” Burrow said Wednesday. “We are behind them 100% and support them in whatever they decide to do in the future.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano contributed to this report.
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