NFL players took to the field Sunday, less than 24 hours after President Trump’s latest tweets urged them to stand for the national anthem and while many chose to make a statement of some sort — kneeling, raising a fist, locking arms — for the most part the league began to return to a semblance of normalcy through the conclusion of its 1 p.m. EDT games . . . with “normal” defined as a collection of stunning results and surprising upsets.
Somehow, after the 1 p.m. games, the New England Patriots trailed the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East Division, falling to 1-2 at home and 2-2 overall. At least the Pats had company at 2-2; the New York Jets — a team many believed was trying to tank this season — beat Jacksonville 23-20.
The Dallas Cowboys ran into a buzz saw in the form of, yes, the Los Angeles Rams. They’re 3-1 now and the Cowboys, on the shortlist of Super Bowl contenders at the start of the season, sit at 2-2 even with the services of running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Houston Texans won a game with offense, ringing up 57 points against Tennessee, including five touchdowns from Deshaun Watson, tying an NFL rookie record.
The Atlanta Falcons lost for the first time this season, leaving the Kansas City Chiefs as the NFL’s only undefeated team. And the New Orleans Saints took their much maligned defense all the way to London to shut out the Miami Dolphins.
There were some major injuries during the 1 p.m. games: Julio Jones left the Falcons’ loss to Buffalo with a hip injury and did not return, Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook left the team’s loss to Detroit with what is feared to be an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota left the team’s loss to Houston with a hamstring injury.
During the 4 p.m. games, Oakland quarterback Derek Carr left the team’s matchup against the Broncos in the second half with an injury. Carr was clutching his back after being sacked, and did not return.
In Tampa Bay, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left with a dislocated finger before returning, and then left again with an ankle injury before returning later in the team’s loss to the Bucs. The defeat dropped the Giants’ record to 0-4.
As far as the protests that marked last weekend went, the strongest message of the day came when Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders arrived for the 4:25 p.m. game in Denver wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed: “Everybody vs. Trump.” Cam Newton of the Panthers raised a fist after he scored a rushing touchdown against New England.
About 30 members of the San Francisco 49ers — who had not played since Sept. 21, before Trumps comments about the league and kneeling players during a speech in Alabama — took a knee for the anthem. Their teammates stood behind them with hands on kneeling players’ shoulders and the other over their hearts.
In a statement, the team said in part: “It is important that we continue to emphasize that despite our different backgrounds and beliefs, we still love each other and are truly a brotherhood. Our gesture today was an intentional effort to demonstrate that. Make no mistake, we love this great country and have tremendous respect for our military and veterans who have sacrificed so much for our right to express ourselves freely. We passionately want what is best for this country and all its citizens.”
Otherwise, the early games were marked by players who, for the most part, remained standing. The Los Angeles Rams linked arms and Robert Quinn raised a fist in protest. Members of the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys stood, as did members of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Several members of the Buffalo Bills took a knee.
Several members of the Cleveland Browns stood, with fists raised.
The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints started things Sunday morning, with the Saints collectively taking a knee before their game in London, before rising and linking arms for the singing of the national anthem. Meanwhile, three members of the Dolphins, tight end Julius Thomas, safety Michael Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills, continued to kneel during the anthem, performed by Darius Rucker.
The anthem for the 1 p.m. games was shown by CBS, but not by Fox, which reverted to the usual practice of selling that time to advertisers on the regional broadcasts. The anthem is typically only shown on telecasts on the Thursday night kickoff game and before the Super Bowl.
“As is standard procedure, regionalized coverage of NFL games airing on Fox this Sunday will not show the national anthem live; however, our cameras are always rolling and we will document the response of players and coaches on the field,” Fox said in a statement.
President Trump had tweeted at NFL players about the anthem, writing Saturday night: “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”
On Thursday night, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called for the message to be redirected because many were interpreting it as directed at the military.
“It’s never been about the national anthem. It’s never been about the military,” he said. “We’re all patriotic in the locker room. We love our troops. This is about something bigger than that — an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country. And I’m proud of our guys. This has been a galvanizing situation for us. . . . [A]s much as some people want us to just shut up and play football and keep the politics to the politics, sports and politics have always intersected. And if we can help continue a conversation through demonstration of unity . . . I think that’s a good thing.
“We could hear some USA chants as it started, which is fantastic. Could also hear some negativity being yelled during the anthem. Semantics there, right? What’s disrespectful to the anthem? Yelling things during it or standing at attention with arms locked, facing the flag? That’s for you to decide.”
On Friday, the Seattle Seahawks announced that they would channel their protest into the Seahawks Players Equality and Justice for All Action Fund, which players said would support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice.
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Jay-Z performed, sending a message with a No. 7 “Colin K” jersey.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones left the team’s loss to Buffalo with a hip injury and did not return. . . . Vikings running back Dalvin Cook suffered a scary looking left knee injury and was ruled out for the rest of Minnesota’s loss to Detroit. Coach Mike Zimmer said he fears that Cook has suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and the rookie will have an MRI on Monday.
Titans QB Marcus Mariota left the team’s loss to the Texans with a hamstring injury and did not return. He was replaced by Matt Cassel.
Raiders WR Michael Crabtree has already been ruled out of Oakland’s 4:25 p.m. EDT game against the Denver Broncos.
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