CINCINNATI — Damar Hamlin, a 24-year-old safety in his second season with the Buffalo Bills, was in critical condition in a hospital early Tuesday morning after collapsing on the field following a collision in the first quarter of a football game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
About nine minutes into the game on Monday night, Hamlin tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins after a 13-yard catch. Higgins rammed into Hamlin at full speed, appearing to hit him in the head and chest area. Hamlin quickly stood up, took two steps, collapsed backward and his body went limp.
Medical personnel administered CPR and attended to him for 10 minutes as players from both teams were visibly upset, some shedding tears on the sideline while others circled together and knelt in prayer. One medical professional appeared to administer an IV. Hamlin was later placed on a stretcher and transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Fans in attendance at Paycor Stadium, who had been largely silent through the ordeal, applauded as the ambulance departed.
Hamlin’s collapse was witnessed by millions of viewers who were tuned into the broadcast on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Play was suspended for more than an hour before National Football League officials announced that the game had been postponed.
“Neither coach was talking about resuming play, the players were not thinking of resuming play,” said Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of the N.F.L.’s football operations. “How do you resume play after seeing such a traumatic event?”
Vincent said an emergency action plan was activated after Hamlin was injured. Each stadium has specialists on hand, as well as an ambulance.
Vincent said he and other league officials spoke with Shawn Smith, the head referee at the game who in turn spoke to both head coaches about giving the players as much time as they needed.
There was no discussion of resuming play, he said, which contradicted comments by Joe Buck, ESPN’s play-by-play broadcaster, on the air. Buck said just before players returned to the locker rooms that they were told they would have about five minutes to get ready to resume play. “That’s the word we get from the league and the word we get from down on the field, but nobody’s moving,” Buck said.
“It wasn’t about proceeding with the game,” Vincent told reporters on a conference call early Tuesday. “The competitive aspect never crossed my mind, never crossed our minds.”
Bills players and staff planned to fly back to Buffalo Monday night, a league spokesman said. Vincent and other league officials said they did not yet have plans for resuming the game, which was stopped with the Bengals leading, 7-3.
The N.F.L. Players Association said in a statement that it had been in touch with players from both teams and with the N.F.L. “The only thing that matters at this moment is Damar’s health and well being,” the statement said.
Hamlin, a second-year player drafted out of Pittsburgh, had been in the starting lineup since September because of injuries in the Buffalo secondary. Within an hour of his hospitalization, a toy drive led by Hamlin’s charitable foundation had received more than $650,000 via a crowdfunding website.
Players from around the N.F.L. quickly voiced their concern on social media. “Praying hard… please be okay man,” Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said in a post to his Twitter account.
“The game is not important,” J.J. Watt of the Arizona Cardinals wrote in a post. “Damar Hamlin’s life is important. Please be ok. Please.”
Bills quarterback Josh Allen wrote: “Please pray for our brother.”
About 100 football fans gathered outside University of Cincinnati hospital seeking information about Hamlin’s condition.
Janet Kohl, 62, and her brother Chuck Kohl, 56, said they were watching the game on TV when they saw Hamlin collapse; they drove 20 minutes to the hospital to pray.
“Immediately, the whole euphoria of being a Bengals fan was put into perspective,” Chuck Kohl said. “Because now we’re talking life or death.”
Earlier in the first quarter, Bills cornerback Taron Johnson left the game with a head injury after attempting to tackle Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst. Johnson was attended to on the field by team trainers for several minutes before walking off.
Hamlin’s was the latest of a slew of high-profile injuries this season that have prompted fresh criticism of the N.F.L. over player safety. On Sunday, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Nick Foles left a game after being sacked by the Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, who celebrated the hit as Foles appeared to convulse on the field. Foles was carted off but was listed with rib injury.
On Sept. 29, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was transported to the hospital after slamming his head against the turf in a game against the Bengals. Tagovailoa immediately raised his hands and his fingers were splayed, a gesture called a “fencing response” that can be a sign of brain injury.
Tagovailoa was diagnosed with a concussion and later traveled back with the team, but the moment called greater attention to an investigation launched the week prior, jointly conducted by the league and the N.F.L. Players Association, into how the Dolphins responded after he appeared to suffer a concussion in a game against the Bills four days earlier.
The investigation found that the team had followed the league’s concussion protocol, but the N.F.L. and the players’ union agreed to amend the procedures to prohibit a player from returning to play if he shows ataxia, a term describing impaired balance or coordination caused by damage to the brain or nerves. Under the previous protocol, players who exhibited “gross motor instability” — difficulty getting up or walking, for example — could return to play if doctors decided there was an orthopedic reason for his unsteadiness.
Tagovailoa was again diagnosed with a concussion after being sacked on Dec. 25 in a game against the Green Bay Packers.
Emmanuel Morgan reported from Cincinnati and Ken Belson reported from New York. Kevin Williams contributed reporting from Cincinnati.