Damar Hamlin makes triumphant defensive return for Bills, and no, he wasn't the 12th man
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin made his triumphant return to defensive action on Monday night against the Denver Broncos, completing a comeback that has been nearly a year in the making.
After suffering cardiac arrest during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals late last season, Hamlin had to work to get back in playing shape to make the Bills' 53-man roster out of training camp. Though he did make the team, he was a healthy scratch for all but his team's Week 4 win over the Miami Dolphins. All of his snaps in that game came on special teams.
Monday night was the culmination of everything the safety had been working toward. After an injury to fellow defensive back Cam Lewis, Hamlin entered the game as a replacement for his first defensive snaps of the season.
When Hamlin entered the game, the Bills were leading the Broncos by one point. Denver needed to get into field goal range with fewer than two minutes left to win the game.
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Just a couple of snaps after he made his 2023 debut in Buffalo's defense, Hamlin made a clutch tackle on tight end Adam Trautman. The safety took him down in-bounds a moment after the completed catch, meaning the clock kept running. His tackle forced the Broncos to burn their second timeout with 40 seconds left.
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Damar Hamlin was not the 12th man on the field
In the end, the Broncos were able to complete their drive into field goal territory. After a couple of quarterback kneels, Denver quickly switched to its field goal unit to attempt a game-winner in the final seconds of the game.
The switch was successful. The field goal attempt was not. Kicker Wil Lutz missed wide right, and it looked like the Bills would escape with a win.
Flags on the field told a different story: Buffalo had 12 men on the field, and Denver would get a second shot at a game-winning field goal. Lutz nailed his second attempt, and the Broncos won their third straight game.
Afterwards, many rumors started to swirl that Hamlin was the 12th man that had caused the Bills' penalty and lost them the game. Those rumors are false.
Buffalo had 12 men lined up at the line of scrimmage for Lutz's first (failed) attempt. There weren't any players running off of the field that caused the penalty. None of the players lined up were wearing the sleeves Hamlin was wearing on the previous play, a quarterback kneel on third down.
The safety's triumphant return was marred by a Bills loss, true, but it was not his fault.