Patriots navigating uncertainty as matchup with Bills looms

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Bill Belichick doesn’t usually watch Monday night games on television.

But with the Patriots preparing to play the Bills, and with New England’s playoff hopes hinging on a victory, the longtime coach happened to have the Buffalo-Cincinnati game on.

That means Belichick was like millions of others watching live as Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field because his heart had stopped.

“Life is bigger than this game. And I think this is one of those humbling moments for all of us,” Belichick said Thursday.

That’s because what he saw took him back to 1997 and another game he’ll never forget.

Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets, on the sideline for their final regular-season game at Detroit.

“It was kind of normal play, Adrian Murrell carried the ball and got tackled. They break out and went back to the huddle, and (Reggie Brown) laid on the field and didn’t move,” Belichick recalled.

He remembers watching Brown lying motionless on the field for what seemed like an eternity as he was given CPR and loaded into an ambulance.

“The teams looked pretty much like the game Monday night,” Belichick said. “It was a very chilling game. Obviously, one that I’ll never forget.”

Brown suffered a spinal cord injury that ended his career. The work of medical personnel and subsequent surgery helped him retain the ability to walk.

Though the incidents were different — what caused Hamlin to go into cardiac arrest Monday is still unclear — Belichick said he’s been leaning on his experience in 1997 as he tries to help players deal with their emotions about Hamlin’s injury.

“It’s been unlike a football week I’ve had, that’s for sure,” Patriots center David Andrews said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with (Hamlin), but at the same time we understood we have to prepare for a football game. Still trying to do that to best of our ability.”

Both the Patriots and Bills are preparing to play in Buffalo as scheduled on Sunday. The Patriots held their second practice of the week on Thursday and have tried to throw themselves into those preparations as they seek to extend their season.

“Obviously the game is the game. At end of the day we’re all here, we have a job to do,” Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of emotions running around and to try to stay focused on the game is hard. … But that’s one thing you have to do, is focus on each day … and obviously continue your routine as best you can.”

New England joined teams around the league that have changed their social media profile pictures to an image of Hamlin’s No. 3 with the words “Pray for Damar.” The team also put the message “Patriots Nation Stands With Damar Hamlin” on the Gillette Stadium video board.

The Bills released an encouraging update Thursday on Hamlin’s health, saying he’s shown “remarkable improvement” over the past 24 hours.

Amid the uncertainty surrounding both Hamlin and Sunday’s game, Belichick said the Patriots are simply trying to give everyone associated with the team what they need. Those resources include access to team medical personnel and the team chaplain, and time with their families.

“Whatever it is, I think everyone’s doing the best they can,” he said. “I commend all of them. It’s not easy for any of us.”

Veteran safety Devin McCourty said it was helpful to hear about Belichick’s experiences with Brown in 1997.

“It’s just being able to do the things that the players need,” McCourty said of Belichick’s leadership. “He tells us that all the time. He has a great deal of respect for what each guy decides to do when you go out there and play football. I think that was showcased this week.”

Having played in Buffalo on multiple occasions and witnessed its emotionally charged atmosphere in normal circumstances, Andrews expects this week to be even more amplified.

“I don’t think you can block it out. It’s part of it,” he said.

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