Buffalo Bills make 96-yard kickoff return for touchdown in 1st play as team honors Damar Hamlin

ORCHARD PARK, New York– The echoes of “Let’s Go Buffalo!” Pregame chants were still echoing through an emotionally charged Bills Stadium celebrating the injured safety of Damar Hamlin when another roar suddenly erupted as Nyheim Hines returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.

About three hours later, and after Hines threw another push back 101 yards to give the go-ahead in a 35-23 win over the New England Patriots, fans were on their feet and shouting “Hamlin! Hamlin! Hamlin!” and Bills players holding up three fingers in honor of the injured safety’s No. 3 jersey.

Whatever questions the Bills had, six days after being left stunned and sad to see Hamlin resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati, whether they were able to play were answered before Game 14 seconds old.

“I can’t remember a game that touched me like that, I don’t think it happened in my life. It’s probably number 1,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “It’s just spiritual… You can’t draw or write this any better.”

“OMFG!!!!!” Hamlin posted on his Twitter account from his hospital bed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he spent the week gradually recovering.

Buffalo Bills running back Nyheim Hines (20) scores a touchdown on a kickoff return Sunday, January 8, 2023 during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots.

AP Photo/Joshua Bessex

“HINES FREE,” he tweeted again after Hines’ second goal. Coach Sean McDermott said the team called Hamlin and asked him to count down the team’s last lap in the dressing room.

Hines, acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Indianapolis two months ago, became the 11th player in the NFL to return two kickoffs for points in a game and the first since Seattle’s Leon Washington in 2010.

“We as a community, I feel like we needed this win,” said Hines, before recalling the message Hamlin’s father Mario conveyed to the team on Wednesday when he urged them to play. “He said that’s what Damar wanted, he would want us to push forward and win against New England.”

While Hines ignited the win, much of Bills’ focus remained on 24-year-old Hamlin, who addressed the team via video conference on Friday and told them, “Love you guys.”

Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, who at times this season wondered if he would ever recover from a knee injury sustained in November 2021, struggled to contain his emotions after scoring his first interception of the season.

White apologized for using profanity to refer to how difficult the past week had been and noted Hamlin texting his defensive secondary teammates apologizing for what he had emotionally caused them.

“So that he can check on us?” said White. “I just want to hug him.”

SEE ALSO: Hamlin in their hearts, the NFL pays tribute to the No. 3

Bill receiver John Brown, who scored on a 42-yard touchdown, honored assistant coach Denny Kellington by handing him the ball. It was Kellington who is credited with his quick reaction on the field, performing CPR to get Hamlin’s heart beating again.

Over the past year filled with adversity that has befallen Buffalo, from a deadly snowstorm over Christmas to a deadly mass shooting at a convenience store in May, the Bills have shown their resilience by building their community. The win overcame the sudden shock and mental strain of Hamlin, who collapsed on the field, and secured the AFC No. 2 spot for Buffalo (13-3).

The Bills will now host their divisional rivals Dolphins in the wildcard round next Sunday.

The loss, coupled with Miami’s win over the New York Jets, knocked the Patriots (8-9) out of the playoffs for the second time in three years and only the fourth time in 23 seasons during Bill Belichick’s tenure.

And leave it to receiver Stefon Diggs, who was scheduled to visit Hamlin at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center immediately after the game was suspended in Cincinnati to seal the win with a 49-yard touchdown catch from Allen, who beat Buffalo at 35: 0 in the lead. 23 with 8:51 remaining.

The sold-out crowd – many of them wearing No. 3 Hamlin shirts and jerseys and holding up red hearts in honor of the player – erupted as one as Allen walked off the field with his hands raised.

At the ensuing touchback kick-off, all of Bill’s special team players ran into the end zone and waved to the crowd. The fans stood up in unison and let out a tremendous roar.

Allen finished 19 of 31 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

The Patriots needed just one win to earn a playoff berth but stumbled at the end of the season, losing five of their last seven.

“Proud of the way our boys have been fighting and preparing. In the end, together, players and coaches, we just weren’t good enough today,” said Belichick, whose 19 playoff appearances remain with Don Shula on the NFL coaching roster.

“Today we missed a few chances and gave up four big games. Those were the things that changed the game.”

Mac Jones finished 26 of 40 for 243 yards and three touchdowns, including two for DeVante Parker, and three interceptions – all in the second half.

Jones’ last two interceptions came in the last six minutes on back-to-back drives.

Against third- and 19th-place finishers at the Buffalo 22, Jones’ deep pass down the middle went out of the hands of tight end Hunter Henry and was picked up by linebacker Matt Milano.

On New England’s next possession, Jones’ pass went from Damien Harris to linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

MILESTONE

Patriots defenseman Devin McCourty had an interception and recovered from Devin Singletary’s fumble. The interception was the 35th of McCourty’s 13-year career and moved him one spot behind Ty Law and Raymond Clayborn, who take first place on the franchise list.

McCourty, 35, made his 205th start for New England in what may be his last game for the franchise.

INJURIES

Patriots DT DaMarcus Mitchell did not return after suffering a concussion.

NEXT

The Bills will host the Dolphins next Sunday at 1 p.m. EST.

Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://6abc.com/buffalo-bills-game-score-schedule-vs-patriots/12679325/ Buffalo Bills make 96-yard kickoff return for touchdown in 1st play as team honors Damar Hamlin

Alley Einstein

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