The Bengals got together Wednesday for the first time since Monday night's game was suspended after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and head coach Zac Taylor began the week letting everyone know No. 3 is still on their minds as they prepare for Sunday's game at Paycor Stadium against the Ravens set for 1 p.m.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Damar Hamlin and his family, his loved ones, his teammates, coaches, the entire Bills organization," is how Taylor opened his first media availability since that night. "We've always had a great deal of respect for them and that's grown much deeper, obviously with what we've all seen transpire. Certainly we're pulling for Damar. Hoping for the most positive outlook and looking forward to him seeing all the support he's getting from his team, his community, and people around the league, his family. That will be a great day when he's able to see that."
As news from Hamlin's family at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center sounded hopeful with progress and local TV news stations were faced with running live Taylor's news conference or President Biden's speech across the way in Covington, Ky., Hamlin's updates and the Bengals' preparations for the upcoming week carried the day.
The NFL hasn't said if the Bengals-Bills game is going to be resumed after Sunday's regular-season finale. But as they have since 5:58 left in the first quarter Monday, the Bengals are taking it minute-by-minute.
Right now, the 11-4 Bengals are preparing for a game against the 10-6 Ravens that or may decide the AFC North. Maybe they already won the North. They don't know. They're just thinking of No. 3 as they get ready for Week No. 18
"What we're doing as a team right now is we have to move forward to Baltimore," Taylor said. "We'll let those decisions take place among those who want to make them. All that is really in front of us right now is to get ready for Baltimore on Sunday."
On Tuesday's off-day, some players came into lift and whatever messaging Taylor had he sent through his captains. He made sure director of player relations Eric Ball and team chaplain Vincent Rey could get connected if players wanted to talk through the traumatic events.
The club planned a walk-through late Wednesday afternoon at the IEL Indoor Facility, a common occurrence following a Monday night game, before their regular practices Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
"You can do two things at once," Taylor said. "You can prepare for a football game on Sunday and you can still support Damar and support those who knew him and are dealing with some emotional stuff during this time, so those resources are available and our guys know that."
One of those resources is Rey, the former Bengals linebacker who spent nine seasons here before retiring after the 2018 season. He has heard from his Bills counterpart, Len Vanden Bos, how much the gesture meant of the Bengals captains walking to the Bills locker room to comfort the Buffalo captains. Rey was there as quarterback Joe Burrow and company made the walk.
"It was tremendous to have the other team come to come to them," Rey said. "It showed, we're out here competing our tails off trying to find a way to win, but everyone in both organizations and throughout the league, we stand as one at the end of the day. Damar, he is one of us and that's what was communicated."
Rey, who was on the sidelines in the 2017 Paycor game Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered paralysis, said the Bills were also thankful for Taylor's post-game visit to the hospital, where he saw family members, as well as Bills coaches and management. Some other Bengals staffers visiting the hospital were Eric Ball, assistant head coach Darrin Simmons and director of coaching operations Doug Rosfeld.
"I've never seen anything like that," Ray said. "But never have I seen a rally like that on and off the field.
"People who are strong need others to be strong for them," said Rey, very impressed with how Taylor has handled it all. "Be it head coaches, captains, leaders of families, older siblings. We all have to be strong together. I think a lot of people are asking why? When we don't understand the why, we can trust the who."
It was clear as Hamlin was being resuscitated on the field and after the ambulance left for the hospital that Taylor and Bills head coach Sean McDermott were two of the strongest people of the night.
Taylor revealed how strong Wednesday when he chose to recount only one part of the many lengthy conversations he had with McDermott Monday night before the game was postponed. This one came as the teams went to think over things on their respective sidelines. Taylor, instead, crossed the field to talk to McDermott.
"Once you get wind Buffalo needs to talk about it a little bit more particularly Sean, that's why I went over there," Taylor said. "When the first thing that came out of Sean's mouth was, 'I need to be at the hospital with Damar,', that's kind of a no-brainer for everyone involved in the conversation to separate and let the NFL take the next steps. Which they did."
Before then, Taylor knew the enormity of the situation when he saw the players' faces closest to Hamlin on the field. Not only those of the Bills, but the look of his own wide receiver, Tyler Boyd, like Hamlin, a Pittsburgh native and former University of Pittsburgh star.
"That's my boy," Boyd answered when Taylor asked him if he knew him.
"I didn't say a word to anybody the entire time except for TB, who knew Damar, and I could tell that he was going through it. So I can just see the expressions on Jordan Poyer's face, and Josh Allen's face and TB's face and your processing just, you know, how awful the situation was."
Later, when Taylor was talking to McDermott near the Bills locker room, he saw his captains and walking toward him: Burrow, center Ted Karras, nose tackle DJ Reader, strong safety Vonn Bell, defensive end Sam Hubbard, safety Mike Thomas.
Again, Taylor saw the right thing.
"They told me they wanted to speak to their captains for the Bills. At the moment I wasn't sure how to take that information, I wasn't sure what the right thing to do was," Taylor said. "When you saw both those groups interacting, you immediately knew that was the right decision. I think both sides needed that. Both sets of players, the leaders on the teams, for them to come together, I just stood back and watched. You could tell that's something both locker rooms needed.
"I'm appreciative our captains responded that way and that was the thought to do that. Ton of respect for Josh Allen, Jordan Poyer, the group of captains they have that came out of the locker room, Stefon Diggs, Case Keenum. I saw and a bunch of other guys, Mitch Morse. Certainly, I think those guys all handled it the right way and with class."
There seemed to be plenty of that Monday night and beyond.
"Make no mistake, this was a man that was in their locker room, that they had deep relationships with that they had helped grow and develop and spent a lot of time with," Taylor said.
"I didn't have that relationship with him. I never saw him on the field. I don't pretend to have gone through what a lot of those other people went through. There's a lot of processing that people are that much closer have to. Just as a respect for other human beings, it hurts your heart however you saw it unfold. It's unfortunate and to know there's family in the hospital, there's a mother whose son is in there, to have kids yourself, that hits a little closer."