It was a perfect start following a turbulent week.
Bills running back Nyheim Hines returned a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the opening moments of Sunday’s Week 18 matchup against the New England Patriots. The return electrified Highmark Stadium filled with fans supporting Damar Hamlin — who continues to make progress but remains in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The kickoff return took place moments after Hamlin’s teammates ran onto the field holding “3″ flags that waved in the air during a pre-game tribute. Countless fans attending the game were seen with signs supporting Hamlin.
“This is storybook,” CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz exclaimed before Hines ran into the end zone just 14 seconds into the game.
Hines continued to add to the storybook tale after he scored a second kickoff return TD in the third quarter. With his team trailing 17-14, Hines returned a kickoff 101 yards to give the Bills the lead.
Hamlin’s neurological function was described as “excellent” by doctors on Saturday. The safety has made progress since suffering a cardiac arrest during a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The game was postponed with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter after Hamlin tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, then collapsed on the field. Hamlin received CPR on the field for nearly nine minutes before being taken to the nearby hospital.
The NFL announced later that the game will not resume and was cancelled.
Moments before Hines’ kickoff return, the second-year safety posted a photo of himself alongside his family in the hospital.
“GAMETIME!!!” he wrote.
Hamlin then tweeted “OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!” after the opening kickoff return.
The Bills’ defense also came out firing against the Patriots.
The Bills forced a quick three-and-out after defensive end Gregory Rousseau sacked Patriots quarterback Mac Jones at New England’s 19-yard line.