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 left in the first quarter when Buffalo was safe Hamelin’s devastation He went into cardiac arrest after a procedure. His heartbeat 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 Dahmar Hamelin’s recovery and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Dahmar and his family from across the country. We also incredibly appreciate the amazing work of the medical staff and pay tribute to 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 hands and feet, though he was still considered to be in a critical condition.
In announcing the decision to cancel the game, the NFL mentioned three main factors: the outcome would have no effect on teams eligible for the postseason; Playing the game would have changed the fixture schedule for the remaining teams; Not playing the game will allow all clubs to know their post-season prospects before the start of Week 18.
At the time of the stoppage, the Bengals were leading 7-3. NFL officials confirmed there were no plans to continue the game Monday after Hamlin collapsed and was taken to the hospital.
Buffalo (12-3) entered Week 17 tied with the Kansas City Chiefs (now 13-3) for the best record in the AFC 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 the AFC Champions, beat the Chiefs in a Week 13 rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game.
Because of the canceled game, league owners will vote on Friday — with 24 of the 32 required (a three-quarters majority) to approve — on scenarios approved by the Competition Commission on Thursday involving a neutral site for the AFC Championship Game. Those are based on week 18 results:
• If Buffalo and Kansas City win or tie, the Bills-Chiefs Championship game will be at a neutral site.
• If Buffalo and Kansas City lose and Baltimore wins or Baltimore wins, the Bills Chiefs championship game will be at a neutral site.
• If Buffalo and Kansas City lose and Cincinnati wins, the Bills or Bengals vs.
Possible neutral sites have yet to be identified. Seeds will hold up throughout the playoffs.
If Buffalo and Kansas City both win this weekend, the two leaders will get a bye. If Buffalo wins and Kansas City loses, the Bills will be the #1 seed and get a bye, and no neutral sites will play.
If the Baltimore Ravens win and are matched up against Cincinnati in an AFC wild card game, the spot will be decided by a coin flip. If Cincinnati wins or if the two teams do not match up against each other after a potential Ravens win, regular scheduling procedures will go into effect.
Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn sits on the competition committee, which approved the scenarios Thursday. In a memo obtained by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, Blackburn urged panelists to vote down the scenarios. Her reasoning stemmed from changing the base timing away from the win percentages standard used in this scenario.
“The proper process to change the rules takes place in the off-season,” Blackburn wrote. “It is not appropriate to put teams in a position to vote for something that might give rise to bias, favor one team over another, or affect their standing when the voting takes place immediately prior to the playoffs.”
In his statement, Goodell said he understands that “there is no perfect solution.”
“When we looked at the football schedule, our principles were to reduce disruptions across the league and to reduce inequality in the competition,” he said.
Bengals coach Zack Taylor said Wednesday that the team is preparing to take on the Ravens as the league mulls the future of the Bills-Bengals competition.
“We’re going to let those decisions be made among those who want to make them,” Taylor said. “All we have now is getting ready for Baltimore City on Sunday.”
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow He said rescheduling the match would be difficult.
“I think whatever Buffalo wants to do is what we want to do as well,” Burrow said Wednesday. “We are 100% behind them and support them in whatever they decide to do moving forward.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano contributed to this report.