Buffalo Bills Lifted By Damar Hamlin Visit But Could Find Another Motivation When Dolphins Threatened

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It was great for the Buffalo Bills on Saturday during their walk-through practice when Damar Hamlin and his family sat by one of the field’s end zones and basically loved on the entire team.

“I got to say hello to him and his family. I gave him a big ol’ hug and there was a long line of guys ready to love up on him,” quarterback Josh Allen said after Sunday’s 34-31 playoff win over the Miami Dolphins. “It was a blessing come true to see him back in the facility.”

It was a moment all the players on the team were hopeful would come but were nonetheless surprised happened so soon after Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on Jan. 2. And they all enjoyed it as much as possible.

“I got my hug,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said of a much-anticipated embrace with Hamlin.

“For him to be in the building, it brought smiles and happy tears to everybody in the building,” said safety Dean Marlowe, who has taken over the safety spot since the moment Hamlin collapsed on that field in Cincinnati two weeks ago.

Zach Sieler #92 of the Miami Dolphins tackles Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Bills Use Hamlin Visit To Lift Team

“Just to see him walking around, healthy, recovering well, we sat next to him all around the facility. We asked him a couple of questions on how he’s feeling and all that kind of stuff. All we needed was to see his face and see him walking around.

“Once we knew he was healthy we kind of had a weight lifted off our shoulder but to actually see him in person it was amazing, man. Every guy on the team was so happy to see him.”

Hamlin came to see his teammates with his mother and father and left the team, “over-filled with joy,” White said.

“It gave us a lot of juice,” he added

So, yes, the Bills were lifted Saturday.

That seemed to carry over to Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins because by the time the first quarter ended Buffalo led, 14-0.

And if you were watching at home you might have been tempted to start channel surfing because this game was supposed to be a blowout and that’s the way it was headed.

Then an interesting thing happened.

The Dolphins refused to lay down. Or give up. They seemingly didn’t get the memo that their trip to the postseason was to serve as fodder in a happy Bills story.

They also didn’t seem to believe they had no chance of winning this game in which they started third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson, who matched passes against Allen.

Miami eventually tied this thing at 17-17 before going into halftime trailing only 20-17. And then there was a certain uneasy feeling among the crowd at Highmark Stadium.

That Lake Effect High the Bills were riding from the Hamlin visit suddenly faded or wasn’t helping any more.

And that speaks to the reality of great stories: Sometimes life happens and folks have to deal with reality.

James Cook of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Bills Turn To Season’s Goal Against Dolphins

So the Bills, facing an obstinate opponent that simply would not bow, had to find a different motivation. They had to find another reason other than Damar Hamlin to survive this game.

Well, they went back to the beginning of the season. They returned to the place were this campaign began with a vision that had nothing to do with Hamlin’s health scare and comeback.

“We set goals at the beginning of the year,” Allen said. “We’ve got one goal in mind and that’s to win a world championship and to do that you have to win in the playoffs.”

So in the midst of a close, hard game, the Bills played not necessarily for Hamlin. They played and were motivated simply by the lure of advancing.

Because this team’s goal is to win it all. And the winning it all narrative makes no room for an upset loss to the Dolphins.

“We understand the seriousness of the playoffs,” Allen said. “It’s win or go home. And, again, guys just wanting to win and not hang up the cleats just yet. We got some goals to accomplish.

“And guys in that locker room love each other, they work extremely hard to go out there and execute and try to accomplish those goals that we set.”

The Bills didn’t look great this game. They know that.

The Dolphins came after Allen with multiple blitzes. That included the much anticipated zero blitz that Miami has used often since 2019 when former coach Brian Flores introduced it as a defensive staple.

The zero blitz, by the way, brings every available defender after the quarterback and asks defensive backs to cover all the receivers man-to-man.

The Dolphins did a lot of that man-to-man thing all day. They pressed the Bills.

Mike Gesicki #88 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after scoring a touchdown with teammate Jaylen Waddle #17 during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Dolphins Challenged Bills Throughout Game

And Allen and star receiver Stefon Diggs made them pay early. Diggs had 114 receiving yards midway through the second quarter.

But seeing the damage, the Dolphins changed tactics again and Diggs finished with those 114 receiving yards. So Allen had to find other answers.

Gabe Davis caught six passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. And Cole Beasley caught the first postseason touchdown of his 11-year career.

The Bills also held up on defense.

“We make sure we play as one heartbeat,” Marlowe said. “And when things go wrong, we say in our defensive room our team is led by our defense. And any team that has a strong defense gives themselves a chance to win the ballgame.

“So we just told each other, we got to get as many takeaways as possible and we did a good job.”

This is good news for the Bills. They showed Sunday they are still moved by Hamlin’s presence and ongoing improvement.

But in moments that energy and intangible isn’t enough the Bills can turn to something else. Yes, their ability matter. Their talent matters.

But this team had a goal set for this season that was imperative way before the Hamlin episode happened. And that helped to carry them on Sunday.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

One Comment

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  1. What? A team with a “storyline” is surging in the NFL??? It’s as if they need a “Cinderella” every year… F&^king rigged as F%^k — I’d rather watch the WWE or WWF or whatever the descendant of Georgia Championship Wresting is…

    NFL = JOKE ( a bad joke)

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