Just as players’ national anthem demonstrations were, for the most part, giving way to pure football matters, an NFL owner’s ugly comment raised the ire of his players, who, after an emotional weekend in which they considered their options, responded with the majority taking a knee in protest during the national anthem.
Bob McNair, the Texans’ nearly 80-year-old owner, triggered an emotional weekend that culminated in the team-wide protest, with most linking arms and kneeling. Previously, Texans players had chosen to stand, partly out of respect for the owner. But after meeting and rejecting options like removing the decals from their helmet and remaining in the locker room for the anthem, they came to the sideline, many took a knee and linked arms before the game against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
McNair triggered this with his comment, reported in an ESPN expose of the recent players-owners meeting over the anthem, about “inmates running the prison.” Some players considered a walkout and about 10, including wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, left the facility Friday. Although most were talked into returning by coaches, Hopkins’s absence was directly related to McNair’s comment.
McNair has sought to clean up his mess, offering yet another statement Saturday after meeting with players. However, his apology to players did “not go over well,” the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports. McNair’s effort at damage control included a statement in which he said:
“As I said yesterday, I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meetings last week. I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.
“I am truly sorry to the players for how this has impacted them and the perception that it has created of me which could not be further from the truth. Our focus going forward, personally and as an organization, will be towards making meaningful progress regarding the social issues that mean so much to our players and our community.”
McNair’s inflammatory comment came during the Oct. 17 meeting in New York in which players and owners sought to find a way to take their anthem demonstrations into community action after their message about social injustice and police brutality was lost in tweets and comments by President Trump and others.
The ESPN story showed how divided owners are on the topic of the anthem and, during that meeting, McNair reportedly said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was quoted as saying that “96 percent of Americans are for guys standing.” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said that players for his team will be benched if they do not stand.
McNair’s comments reminded a number of athletes of Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers because of racist comments a few years ago. Richard Sherman of the Seahawks believes players would boycott if they had guaranteed contracts. “I appreciate when people like that show who they really are,” Sherman said of McNair’s comments. “More people in the world have to be that kind and that open about how they really feel so you can identify them — and make sure you stay away from those kind of people, and keep those people out of power.
“But, you know, of course they have to sit back and apologize, because it’s politically correct to apologize. But eventually you have to take people for their word and for who they are. For most players, even when once we apologize they still take what we said and judge us by it. So you should do the same with him.”
Against that backdrop, owners and players had planned to meet again this week and on Saturday night invited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and McNair to join them Monday in Philadelphia. “Many players have been deeply troubled by the disturbing comments made by Texans’ owner Bob McNair,” the players said in a statement. “It is ironic that such a quote would emerge in the midst of an ongoing struggle to highlight injustices suffered by people of color, including our nation’s deeply flawed approach to criminal justice and inhumane treatment of imprisoned people.” However, the meeting reportedly was postponed to a later date Sunday afternoon.
As far as anthem protests go, the San Francisco 49ers continue to lead the way, with seven active or inactive players taking a knee. For the Philadelphia Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod raised a fist, with teammate Chris Long standing with them in support.
After the pregame demonstrations, the game that followed was nothing short of spectacular. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for a career-high 452 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning score with 21 seconds remaining, in what easily becomes a midseason candidate for game of the year, a 41-38 Seattle victory. Wilson accounted for all but three offensive yards for the Seahawks.
In the loss, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson nearly equaled his Super Bowl-winning opposite and became the first rookie to throw for three or more touchdown in four consecutive games. He finished the day with four touchdowns, 402 yards passing and 67 rushing yards, but also had three interceptions. Watson has thrown 15 touchdowns and ran for two more since taking over for Houston in the second half in Week 1.
Seattle’s Earl Thomas and Houston’s Marcus Williams, who both returned interceptions for touchdowns, were the only non-quarterbacks to find the end zone during the game.
With the win, Seattle moves to 5-2 and into a tie with the Rams atop the NFC West. Houston falls to 3-4, trailing the Tennessee Titans (4-3) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) in the AFC South.
Elsewhere in the NFL, 21 teams began the day a .500-or-better record, which meant the week’s slate of games featured no matchup in which both teams had a winning record.
In New Orleans, Bears tight end Zach Miller suffered insult and injury on the same play. He hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Trubisky, but his leg bent in a gruesome way as he came down and he was taken off on a cart. (You can see the injury here, we’re not including the image because it’s actually nauseating.) As he was leaving, review showed that the ball had hit the ground and the touchdown was nullified. (Pity the officials who had to look at the injury over and over.)
The Saints improved to 5-2 with a 20-12 victory and Drew Brees joined Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only NFL passers with more than 6,000 completions. Brees completed 23 of 28 passes on the day for 299 yards.
With their quarterback once again making more headlines for his petulance than his playmaking, the Carolina Panthers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 17-3 victory over Tampa Bay. Cam Newton, who earlier this month apologized to a female reporter and last week skipped media availability, walked off the podium Wednesday after getting a question he didn’t care to answer from a different reporter. On Sunday, though, he completed 18 of 32 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown as the Panthers improved to 5-3.
The Falcons, who failed to convince anyone that the Patriots don’t still remain in their heads after last week’s loss in a regular season rematch of Super Bowl LI, got past the New York Jets, 25-20, on a wet MetLife field. The victory ended a three-game losing streak and put the Falcons back above .500. The loss is the Jets’ third in a row.
In New England, Patriots came away with a 21-13 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and take a 6-2 record into their bye week, snapping the Chargers’ three-game winning streak and dropping them to 3-5. Tom Brady passed for 333 yards and a touchdown; Philip Rivers passed for 212 and a touchdown.
Pity Travis Benjamin, who had one of the worst punt returns you’re likely to see.
The Bills kept pace with the Patriots in the AFC East, moving to 5-2 with a 34-14 victory over the 3-5 Oakland Raiders. In Cincinnati, the 3-4 Bengals eked out a 25-24 victory over the 2-6 Indianapolis Colts.
The NFL’s best team, at least at the moment, continued to be the Philadelphia Eagles, who topped winless San Francisco 33-10. Carson Wentz passed for 211 yards in that game.
The day began with a business-as-usual game from the Cleveland Browns, who flew to London and lost 33-16 to the Minnesota Vikings. Although the winless Browns led 13-12 at the half, the Vikings had no trouble after that, with Case Keenum completing 27 of 43 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception). The Browns’ DeShone Kizer completed 18 of 34 passes for 179 yards.
In the other late afternoon game, the Dallas Cowboys played safe enough in slick, rainy conditions to beat the Washington Redskins, 33-19, and reach 4-3. The Redskins drop to 3-4, losers of two straight in their division. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for two touchdowns and nearly had a third, if not for a holding penalty. Kirk Cousins threw for 263 yards and a touchdown, but also threw a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. More injuries piled up for Washington, as well, which was already dealing with plenty of ailing bodies.
Sunday night’s game promises a little more competitive matchup than last week’s New England-Atlanta affair, with 5-2 Pittsburgh playing Detroit, trying to end a two-game losing streak and make noise in the NFC North. The Steelers have been a soap opera this season — imagine how much Coach Mike Tomlin loves that.
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant will not play after a week in which he repeated a trade request on social media, a decision that ended with him on the scout team pretending to be a Lions receiver for the defense during practice. “He just has to earn his way back,” fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “Obviously, we need him. We know what he’s capable of. We’re going to need him down the stretch. He made a mistake, and he’ll learn from it.”
On Monday night, the 3-3 Denver Broncos play the 5-2 Chiefs in Kansas City in an important NFC West game.
In other news…
A Martellus Bennett bombshell: The Packers tight end writes on Instagram that he’s “pretty sure” this will be his last NFL season. (Read more.)
No review really needed: Game officials are supposed to eject players for hits like the one Kiko Alonso delivered on Joe Flacco. (Read more.)
It’s Barr vs. Rodgers II: Anthony Barr hits Aaron Rodgers again, saying “this guy got y’all fooled,” in what is now a he said-he said over just what happened when the Packers quarterback’s collarbone broke two weeks ago. (Read more.)
NFL worries: Mark Cuban predicted an NFL “implosion” because of greed. Now, he sees it “accelerating.” (Read more.)
What to make of the Redskins? It’s still too early to write off the Redskins or to declare them playoff-worthy. (Read more.)
Don’t crown ’em just yet: The Seahawks aren’t ready to cede the NFC West to the Rams. (Read more.)
Still in Beast Mode: Marshawn Lynch spent part of his suspension putting a big hit on a high school player. (Read more.)
Week 8 byes: The Cardinals, Packers, Jaguars, Rams, Giants and Titans are off.
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has cleared the concussion protocol and, although he was still listed as questionable Friday, he is expected to play after practicing all week. Kuechly was injured in the Oct. 12 loss to the Eagles and missed last week’s game.
The Redskins’ injury report is extensive and, on Saturday, the team signed offensive lineman Orlando Franklin and guard Arie Kouandjio, placed linebacker LB Mason Foster on injured reserve and waived running back Mack Brown.
1 p.m. inactives include:
Ronald Darby (ankle)
Jordan Poyer (knee)
Alex Armah (hamstring)
Inactive players for 4 p.m. games:
C.J. Prosise (ankle)
Luke Joeckel (knee)
Fantasy football advice
Best/worst matchups: At either end of the spectrum, we have LeGarrette Blount and Dez Bryant. (Read more.)
The Atlanta conundrum: Should fantasy owners keep faith in the Falcons’ broken offense? (Read more.)
Week 8 cheat sheet: The choicest tips for Week 7. (Read more.)
Week 8 Start/Sit: Expect Kareem Hunt’s “struggles” to continue. (Read more.)
The Fantasy Football Beat: The Post’s fantasy football experts run down the trade fixes for your fantasy — and reality — teams. (Listen.)
The top trends and insights from Las Vegas. (Read more.)