Bills return opening kickoff for touchdown against Patriots after pregame focus on Damar Hamlin

BOSTON — Orchard Park was an emotionally charged place on Sunday afternoon. It took all of one play for the Bills to capitalize on that energy.

With the Patriots and Bills squaring off in Week 18, and with a lot on the line for both teams, the Bills took the field with Damar Hamlin on the forefront of their minds.

And after the Patriots deferred after winning the opening coin toss, New England kicked the ball off to start the game.

The speedy Nyheim Hines caught that kick at his own 4-yard line, and he took it 96 yards untouched into the end zone to give Buffalo an immediate lead.


📺: @NFLonCBS

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 8, 2023

The fans in attendance, obviously, reacted appropriately.

Wow! – a 96 yard KO return by Nyheim Haynes to open the game and Highmark Stadium went crazy! Bills 7-0 #NEvsBUF #ForDamar @wbz

— Dan Roche (@RochieWBZ) January 8, 2023

Such a play was extremely rare. How rare? Well …

From @ESPNStatsInfo: This is the first time under Bill Belichick (since 2000) that the Patriots have allowed a kick return TD on the opening kickoff.

— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 8, 2023

The Bills were favored to beat the Patriots on Sunday, so a 7-0 lead early wasn’t the most surprising outcome.

But given that it happened immediately after the entirety of pregame atmosphere centered on Damar Hamlin, that was a rather special scene that played out in New York.

Watching from his hospital bed in Cincinnati, Hamlin himself had a simple reaction on Twitter: “OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Incredibly, Hines broke off another kick return touchdown later in the game, returning a third-quarter kickoff 101 yards midway through the third quarter to give Buffalo a 21-17 lead. 

Entering Sunday, only four kicks had been returned for touchdowns all season long across the entire NFL, prior to Hines returning two kicks for touchdowns on Sunday. Hines became the first NFL player with two kick return touchdowns in the same game since Leon Washington did it in 2010.

Buffalo went on to win, 35-23.