CINCINNATI — The Week 17 game between the Bengals and Bills has been canceled and will not go ahead, the league announced Thursday night.
Monday’s game was suspended less than six minutes into the first quarter during Buffalo’s defense Tamar Hamlin After making a block he went into cardiac arrest. His heart rate was restored on the field before he was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“This has been a very difficult week,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Thursday. “We continue to focus on Damar Hamlin’s recovery and are encouraged by his progress and the outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country. We are incredibly appreciative. Kudos to the medical staff and each and every one of them.”
Doctors said earlier in the day that Hamlin had shown “significant improvement,” including communicating through writing and moving his arms and legs, even though he was considered to be in critical condition.
In announcing the decision to cancel the game, the NFL cited three key factors: the decision would not depend on which teams qualified for the postseason; Playing the game would have changed the playoff schedule for the remaining teams; And not playing a game will allow all clubs to know what the season likely is before the start of Week 18.
At the end of the game, Bangladesh were leading 7-3. NFL officials said there were no plans to resume Monday’s game following Hamlin’s collapse and hospitalization.
Buffalo (12-3) enters Week 17 tied with the Kansas City Chiefs (now 13-3) for the best record in the AFC, but holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Cincinnati (11-4) would have held the three-way tiebreaker with a win over the Bills, despite trailing both teams by a game. The Bengals, now the AFC North champions, beat the Chiefs in Week 13 in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game.
Because of the canceled game, the league’s owners will vote Friday — requiring 24 of 32 (three-fourths majority) approval — on the scenarios the competition committee approved Thursday to include the neutral site for the AFC Championship Game. They depend on Week 18 results:
• If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or tie, the Bills-Chiefs championship game will be at neutral site.
• If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, the Bills-Chiefs championship game will be at neutral site.
• If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, the Bills or Bengals vs. Chiefs championship game will be at neutral site.
Potential neutral sites have yet to be determined. The seeds will hold up throughout the playoffs.
If both Buffalo and Kansas City win this weekend, the Chiefs will have the bye. If Buffalo wins and Kansas City loses, the Bills will be the No. 1 seed and get the bye, with no neutral sites in effect.
If the Baltimore Ravens win the AFC wild card game and play against Cincinnati, the spot will be determined by a coin flip. If Cincinnati wins, or if the two teams don’t match up after a possible Ravens win, regular scheduling procedures will come into play.
Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn is on the competition committee, which approved the shots on Thursday. In a memo obtained by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, Blackburn urged board members to vote against the shots. His rationale stems from the timing of a rule change away from the standard of winning percentages used in this situation.
“The proper process (sic) to change the rule is in the off-season,” Blackburn wrote. “When voting immediately before the playoffs, it is not appropriate to put teams in a position to vote for one team in favor of another team or for something that could affect their own situation.”
In his statement, Goodell said he recognizes there is “no perfect solution.”
“As we consider the football schedule, our policies are to limit disruption and minimize competitive imbalances across the league,” he said.
On Wednesday, Bengals coach Jack Taylor said the team is preparing to face the Ravens as the league considers the future of the Bills-Bengals rivalry.
“Let’s let those decisions take place among those who want to make them,” Taylor said. “Now what’s really in front of us is getting ready for Baltimore on Sunday.”
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow He said rescheduling the game would be difficult.
“I think we want to do what Buffalo wants to do,” Pro said Wednesday. “We are behind them 100% and support them in whatever decision they make moving forward.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano contributed to this report.
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