Sights and sounds of Sunday's Bengals-Ravens pregame at Paycor Stadium:
Six days after they helped save the life of Bills safety Damar Hamlin when he suffered a cardiac arrest during the game against the Bills, the Paycor paramedics gathered for a prayer on the same sidelines they stood sentry Monday night about fours before kickoff. At various moments Hamlin's smile flashed on the scoreboard with the message, "Love For Damar."
With news of Hamlin's progress continuing to flow a couple of miles from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard arrived at Paycor wearing "More Than Football," T-Shirt with Bills colors and Hamlin's No. 3.
Not long after, Bengals long snapper Cal Adomitis, Hamlin's teammate at Pittsburgh's Central Catholic High and the University of Pittsburgh, walked into the locker room wearing a replica of Hamlin's game jersey. Word was another Pittsburgh native and alum and Hamlin friend, Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd, planned to do the same. He had been hoping get the jersey in a swap with Hamlin after Monday's game.
At about 9:30 a.m., Bengals head coach Zac Taylor walked through the tunnel he took his team back into Monday night when it became clear there was no way anybody could play after Hamlin had been revived and taken to the hospital. Before walking across the field to meet ESPN, he spoke to Melanie Collins of CBS and in the same measured, unflappable tone that marked his impressive week in front of his players and media, he outlined the day.
Relief, gratefulness and prayers for Hamlin. Singular focus to win Sunday with plenty on the line for next week's Wild Card Game. Taylor didn't have to say it. The stakes range from home field in a game against these very Ravens to possibly going from No. 3 to No. 2 in the AFC seedings.
After Taylor exited, his players, grim and quiet, began to slowly take the field for warmups dressed in black "Love For Damar," T-Shirts. Quarterback Joe Burrow, looking to break his own Bengals-record 34 touchdown passes, wore one as he sizzled warmup tosses to staff also wearing it.
So did wide receivers coach Troy Walters as he sat on the bench with headphones and his bag of tennis balls as he waited to warm up his players. Tee Higgins, the man Hamlin tackled before his attack, came out first and caught some, not far from one of the 30-yard lines that was outlined in the script of a blue Bills 3. Higgins knows Hamlin from working Boyd's youth camp with him last summer and wore the shirt. As did wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who came out next in his bid to catch 40 yards and make him and Higgins only the second pair of Bengals receivers to go for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons, joining the 2006-07 tandem of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Before he stepped on the field, defensive tackle B.J. Hill stopped at the end of the tunnel runway, bowed his head and closed his eyes for about a minute.
When the inactive list came out, Hubbard was active for the first time since Dec. 18 in Tampa Bay.
INACTIVES: Bengals tackle Jackson Carman was active Sunday for the first time since the second game of the year Sunday in a game Hakeem Adeniji is expected to make his first start at right tackle since 2020 and his rookie year. Tackle D'Ante Smith was inactive.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh sent a message when he sat a bevy of starters, beginning with Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews and running back J.K. Dobbins, leading the league the last four games with 390 yards. Plus, he's going with third-string quarterback Anthony Brown. They seem content to return to Paycor for next week's Wild Card rested and healthy. The Bengals have to win to avoid a coin flip to decide where next week's game is going to be played even though they are the AFC North champs.