Damar Hamlin visits Bills' locker room, salutes fans at Bengals game

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- At the two-minute warning in the first half of the Buffalo Bills' divisional round playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, an image popped up on the screens at Highmark Stadium as snow fell to the ground.

At first, it was tough to see who, or what, exactly was being shown, but a lower third graphic popped up with the words: "Damar Hamlin, Bills safety."

Eventually, Hamlin came in clear, holding up his hands in the shape of a heart in what has become his signature move, while also pumping up the crowd as it cheered loudly upon seeing him despite the Bills' on-field struggles.

"I thought it was a pretty cool moment," coach Sean McDermott said after the season-ending 27-10 loss. "The game wasn't trending the way we wanted it to. But when they put them on the big screen, and just a great moment, keep in perspective, of course on where he was just a few weeks ago. So super happy for him and thankful that his health is returning. And I know he'll continue to take it one day at a time."

Hamlin returned to a Bills game for the first time with his family, including mom Nina, father Mario and brother Damir, taking in the loss from a luxury box at Highmark.

Before the game, Hamlin also visited with his teammates in the locker room. He did not come on to the field.

"Just his presence I think speaks volumes," center Mitch Morse said. "... He's not a big rah-rah guy and I'm sure that at some point he's a little bit exhausted of people asking how he's doing or put in a position that he didn't ask to be put in. His presence alone, his smile, his positive energy, which he's always had, always interjects energy and good vibes with the group. It was really good to see him. I'm really happy for the fans, the crowd, for him to be able to go out there and he's worked very hard to get in the position he's at right now."

Hamlin's visit came almost three weeks after he went into cardiac arrest on the field during the first quarter of the Bills' Week 17 game against the Bengals. McDermott said Wednesday that Hamlin had been at the facility "almost daily," including Tuesday and Wednesday, but was not participating in team meetings and is taking it "one step, one baby step at a time."

McDermott said Friday that the team and Hamlin were "just going at Damar's cadence."

"It's what he needs and how we can help him and how our training staff can help serve him and we can serve him, and as anyone would do, we're just trying to be there for him and walk at his pace, so to speak, play on words," McDermott said. "But we're just there for him and want the best for him right now. So it's been good having him around when he's been around there."

Hamlin, 24, stayed at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for almost a week after suffering cardiac arrest Jan. 2. He then flew to Buffalo and spent about two days at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute. He was discharged Jan. 11.

For a third straight game, the 3s on the 30-yard lines at Highmark were outlined in blue for Hamlin.

Hamlin was not in attendance for the Bills' win over the Miami Dolphins to start the playoffs, but he was watching from home. He first visited the team at its practice facility Jan. 14, attending the walk-through with family members.

Despite the Bills' season ending, having Hamlin in the building and with the team went a long way, players said.

"Just his presence was a warm feeling and obviously we wanted to play for him and continue our mission," quarterback Josh Allen said. "And again, we just ran into a team that played better than us tonight."