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NFL Players Return to the Field After Bills’ Damar Hamlin’s Collapse

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LAS VEGAS — One of the traumatic weeks within the N.F.L. history ended much because it began: With fans tailgating and players clashing in highly anticipated football games crammed with touchdowns and bone-crunching hits.

In between, the league and the thousands and thousands of fans grappled with their addiction to football five days after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed onto the sphere during a game in Cincinnati and went into cardiac arrest — a terrifying scene that stretched for 10 minutes as medical personnel repeatedly compressed his chest and teammates and opponents wept.

The N.F.L. has been thrust into many crises, including after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina, which forced the Saints to desert Latest Orleans. However the league has never needed to grapple with the sight of doctors and paramedics trying to save lots of a player’s life on the sphere during a major time game with thousands and thousands of individuals watching.

Hamlin stays in critical condition, but his respiration tube was removed on Friday and on Saturday he sent his first posts on social media. His recovery has given license to the league, the players and fans to focus again on the game they love because the regular season ends this weekend.

It was, with a slight twist on the old saw, any given Saturday as Las Vegas hosted Kansas City and Tennessee traveled to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars. The few signs of the pall that Hamlin’s injury has solid over the league were mostly visible only before the games.

In Las Vegas, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes warmed up in a cutoff hooded sweatshirt with a picture of Hamlin and the words “Hamlin Strong” on the back, one among the numerous tributes to Hamlin at Allegiant Stadium.

Most Raiders players wore black warm-ups that said “Love For Damar” and had his No. 3 on the front. The No. 3 was outlined in dark blue, Buffalo Bills colours, on each 30-yard line.

“Throughout this week your complete N.F.L. family has been praying for Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills as he continues his recovery,” the general public address announcer said before the national anthem was played. “The Raiders ask you to affix us in a moment of support and love for Damar, and cheer for him and his family as they proceed their fight.”

The scene was similar in Jacksonville, with a twist. After each teams warmed up, every Jaguars and Titans player and coach met on the 50-yard line, took a knee and prayed for about one minute. The fans in TIAA Stadium who had been cheering went silent.

Then it was back to football. In Las Vegas, Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson booted the ball 75 yards into the opposing end zone for a touchback to open the sport, after which Mahomes and his offense spent 60 minutes tormenting their division rivals in a 31-13 victory.

In Jacksonville, the Titans jumped out to a 10-0 lead behind running back Derrick Henry. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence responded by throwing a 25-yard touchdown rating to receiver Christian Kirk. The Titans led 13-7 at halftime. The winner of the sport will claim the A.F.C. South title and host a wild-card round game next weekend.

And identical to that, the National Football League soldiered on after per week of anguish and unanswered questions.

It was just two games, but they were vitally necessary ones for the N.F.L., which makes billions of dollars marketing a violent sport while hoping it never reaps the worst consequences of that violence. The gravity of the injury to Hamlin created a crisis for the league since it starkly reminded fans of the chance that they might witness far worse than concussions and torn ligaments.

The sport in Las Vegas proceeded at the same time as players were still processing what they’d witnessed Monday night.

Wearing a “Love For Damar” shirt after the sport, Mahomes said it was “definitely weird” to step back onto the sphere after Hamlin’s injury. “You may have that behind your mind,” he said.

He said Hamlin’s improving condition made it easier.

“That offers you slightly little bit of that final thing that, all right, that is what we’re speculated to be doing, let’s go on the market and provides joy not only to us, but the remaining of the world watching us,” he said.

The games looked like every other N.F.L. games. There have been spectacular plays, bad fumbles, fans mugging for the camera, and halftime entertainment provided by a band past its prime.

Fans, too, seemed desperate to get back to football. In Jacksonville, tailgaters played cornhole and beer pong, grilled burgers and mixed cocktails. Contained in the stadium, a standing-room-only crowd waved white towels to pump up the Jaguars — frequent cellar dwellers — who had a probability to return to the playoffs for the primary time since 2017.

The general public address announcer at each stadiums asked the gang to “take part a moment of support and love for Damar” before the national anthem was played.

Removed from the games, Hamlin was on the mend. The Bills said Saturday that while he continues to make progress on the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, he stays in critical condition. He’s respiration on his own, nevertheless, and his neurological function is “excellent,” based on the team. On Friday, Hamlin spoke to a few of his teammates on a video chat.

“On an extended road keep praying for me!” read a latest post on Hamlin’s Instagram account Saturday, the primary direct communication from Hamlin since his injury.

Injuries are inevitable in football, and players are used to competing through pain that will sideline the typical person. Also they are accustomed to continuing to play even after watching teammates get carted off the sphere. The Raiders had to do this Saturday, when linebacker Harvey Langi left the sport with a concussion.

Hamlin’s injury, though, which threatened his life, was not the form of thing players could compartmentalize: It resulted in the sport being postponed and eventually canceled, each of that are nearly without precedent in N.F.L. history.

“I don’t think it’s ever out of your mind as a player, to experience that,” said Chris Jones, a Kansas City defensive lineman. “I feel you are trying to mask it with what’s happening together with your surroundings.”

While the N.F.L. engineered tributes to Hamlin, few fans in Las Vegas looked as if it would achieve this. There have been a handful of fans wearing Bills jerseys on the stadium, though there have been just as many in gear representing the Cowboys, the Seahawks and other teams.

Frank Nostro, 54, who wore a Josh Allen No. 17 Bills jersey, said he was watching as Hamlin got hit Monday night. “I believed it was just a daily hit — you see a number of guys go down with a concussion or something like that,” he said. “But you see the replay and the panic in among the coaches and the staff on the market, and also you understand it was something really bad.”

Nostro, who grew up in Buffalo and moved to Las Vegas 30 years ago, was mostly concerned with seeing the Bills win a championship. “If the Raiders win today, that helps Buffalo,” he said.

The Raiders didn’t help the Bills. With the victory, Kansas City finished the regular season with a 14-3 record and clinched a bye in the primary round of the playoffs.

Kevin Draper reported from Las Vegas and Ken Belson from Jacksonville.

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