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Sensitive, unfamiliar territory realized as NFL gets back to work

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott takes a knee  as Damar Hamlin is tended to on the field following a collision against the Cincinnati Bengals.

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Back to work Wednesday became unfamiliar, sensitive and emotional territory around the NFL two days after Bills safety Damar Hamlin left the playing field in critical condition.

Hamlin remained in intensive care breathing with the aid of machines on Wednesday morning when his Buffalo teammates began checking in for what is typically the first workday of preparation for the next game — in this case, a 1 p.m. ET home kickoff with the New England Patriots on Sunday.

The Bills didn’t practice and shifted media availability to later in the week. No formal practice was held, but a brief walkthrough served as the first on-field activity since Hamlin, 24, collapsed and stopped breathing due to cardiac arrest Monday night during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Family said Hamlin was still in critical condition Wednesday at a Cincinnati hospital.

The Bengals also were back at their team facility for the first time since Monday. They play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday with the AFC North division and home-field advantage still up for grabs.

“We’re pulling for Damar, hoping for the most positive outlook and looking forward to him seeing all the support he’s getting from his team, community. … That’ll be a great day when he’s able to see that,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said.

Taylor choked back emotion when he described walking across the field to Bills head coach Sean McDermott on Monday night to discuss how to handle the situation. McDermott told Taylor he should be at the hospital with Hamlin.

“I need to be at the hospital with Damar. I shouldn’t be coaching this game,” Taylor said of what McDermott said.

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, said he told players he needs them “to speak and be open” as the team prepares for a Saturday night game with a playoff spot and division title on the line.

“Situations like this and incidences like this really hit everybody a little bit differently,” Pederson said. “I don’t want the kids to keep that in. … It’s the hardest thing to transition from life and things that are out of our control to a football game and getting the focus of the room back on that.

“There were some questions from players about the incident, and on the medical side. Just a lot of love, pouring out of their hearts to the Hamlin family, the Bills and Bengals organization as well.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Monday rallied his team with the mantra “one week season,” as New England focused on a win to sneak into the playoffs.

By Wednesday, Belichick was on the field running a low-key practice absent the usual bass-bumping soundtrack.

Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft was among significant contributors to Hamlin’s toy drive fundraiser, donating $18,003. The number 18 symbolizes “life” in Jewish faith; 3 is Hamlin’s jersey number.

Another of Buffalo’s AFC East rivals, the Miami Dolphins are also still competing for a playoff spot but focused most of Wednesday on mental health. Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel was awakened by his wife when Hamlin collapsed.

He began his team meeting Wednesday by telling players to support each other and made it clear there is “no one way to feel” in coping with emotions.

“It’s hard for me to see all the hurt. I don’t pretend to know exactly what it feels like because I wasn’t there,” McDaniel said. “That would be insulting. I attempt to be empathetic and my heart just breaks for everyone involved. I think it’s … the wake of that is long and strong, ever-pervasive. My heart aches for the whole Bills’ organization, specifically Damar’s family and himself. But (also for) everybody that chooses to play football and the things that those emotions elicit. I wish I could do something about it. Of course, I can’t.

“The slight minute (of) comfort I do find is there seems to be a pervasive theme when tragedy occurs you end up seeing the best face of humanity, everybody aiding and supporting each other. That’s a slight solace in an otherwise terrible event.”

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy took a seat in the team auditorium as his players reported to the team practice facility, with team chaplain Jonathan Evans running the gathering.

“Heavy, sensitive day here. Let’s be honest: Nobody’s fine,” McCarthy said. “I thought his spiritual guidance is what we needed. I’m really not thinking about Sunday right now.”

Evans, a former NFL fullback, was “very insightful,” McCarthy said.

New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll wore a Giants hat with “3” in large white lettering as a nod to Hamlin. Daboll called the situation “tragic.” Daboll was offensive coordinator of the Bills last season and helped with the team’s pre-draft evaluation of the former Pitt safety.

“A lot of us have been around Damar,” Daboll said. “We offer our prayers to the family, to him. I feel for Damar most importantly. … He’s a tremendous young man. I just pray for recovery.”

–Field Level Media