ATLANTA – A half dozen members of the Buffalo Bills continued their silent protest during the national anthem Sunday before the game against the Falcons.
Running back Mike Tolbert, cornerback Shareece Wright, wide receiver Kaelin Clay, running back Taiwan Jones and defensive tackles Cedric Thornton and Jerel Worthy knelt while the song was played. They were joined by teammate Leonard Johnson, who stood with them a few feet behind the rest of the team on the sideline.
"It’s something that we believe in," Clay said. "We’re not protesting the flag, military, it’s about social justice and systemic oppression. That’s basically what it’s about, trying to change the ways of the world. Be a positive change. I know a lot of people look at it negatively, but if they really sit down and understand what’s going on, I think that they would believe."
A photographer for the Associated Press took a photo of Clay’s cleats before the game with #I’mWithKap written on one of them, a reference to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first knelt for the national anthem to bring attention to the issues Clay referenced.
Thornton, Wright, Clay, Tolbert and Jones were among the dozen members of the Bills who took a knee last week against Denver – the first game after President Trump made incendiary comments about what should happen to players who did so. Worthy made his season debut after missing the first three games of the year. The five players who stood Sunday after taking a knee against Denver were linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, defensive end Ryan Davis and Johnson. Defensive end Shaq Lawson, who knelt last week, was inactive against Atlanta because of an injury.
“Everybody on this team, from top to bottom, they support us,” Clay said. “We’re just trying to make a change in this community and in this world that’s way bigger than me, you, or anybody else that’s living right now. We’re trying to do this for the future.”
No members of the Falcons elected to kneel, although a group of seven players stood apart from the rest of the team, which had its arms interlocked.
Lawson, the team's first-round draft pick in 2016, was held out after he suffered a groin injury during Thursday's practice. He was unable to practice Friday. Lawson sat on the Bills' bench as his teammates warmed up, joined by defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, who was a healthy inactive.
Also out for the Bills against Atlanta were: Guard Vlad Ducasse, running back Joe Banyard, tight end Khari Lee, wide receiver Brandon Tate and left tackle Cordy Glenn, who was previously ruled out because of injuries to his left foot and right ankle.
Eddie Yarbrough started at defensive end in place of Lawson, while rookie Dion Dawkins lined up in Glenn's spot at left tackle. Without Tate, the Bills used Micah Hyde at punt returner and Jones at kick returner.
Yarbrough finished with four tackles and one pass defensed, while Dawkins recovered a key fumble in the third quarter. Hyde made three fair catches and Jones returned two kicks for 50 yards in their respective roles.
The Falcons dealt with some serious injury issues, holding out linebacker Vic Beasley (hamstring), safety Ricardo Allen (concussion), defensive end Courtney Upshaw (ankle, knee), offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) and running back Terron Ward (neck, shoulder). Atlanta also lost wide receivers Julio Jones (hip) and Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) during the game.
Give Rex Ryan credit: He got one right.
Ryan, the Bills’ former coach who is now an analyst for ESPN, predicted on air before Sunday’s game that his old team would beat the Falcons. Of course, he did it in typical Ryan fashion.
"Part of it is I still have three years left on my contract," Ryan said. "That's some serious cash."
Ryan made it less than two full years into a five-year, $27.5 million contract that was fully guaranteed. After a 3-1 start under new coach Sean McDermott, it’s doubtful there are any Bills fans out there who miss the guy he replaced.