FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Boos rained down from the stands at Gillette Stadium.

“They were hard to miss,” said Nate Solder, the hulking left tackle of the New England Patriots.

And it wasn’t because of how the Patriots were playing Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans, though, truth be told, the Patriots probably deserved some boos for that, too.

No, some fans – not all – were booing because a group of Patriots took a knee during the national anthem, in response to President Donald Trump’s remarks at a Friday rally in Alabama in which he said NFL owners should fire any player who kneels during the national anthem.

Players and teams across the NFL reacted Sunday afternoon. Some linked arms – including Tom Brady with wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, the Patriots offensive line, and the Houston Texans as a team.

Some of the Patriots kneeled, including Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler, James White, Duron Harmon, Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Brandin Cooks, Brandon Boldin, Stephon Gilmore, Alan Branch and Jordan Richards. At least 17 Patriots players were involved.

On just about any other Sunday, the main topic of conversation after the game would have been the 52nd fourth-quarter comeback win of Brady’s career, a stunningly marvelous eight-play, 75-yard drive that began with 2:24 remaining and ended with 23 seconds left when Brady threw a 25-yard pass to Cooks.

But this wasn’t a normal Sunday.

McCourty, one of the most respected players in the NFL, began his postgame press conference with a statement about why he and the others took the position they did – knowing that their reasons would not be understood.

“We wanted to come together, and first and foremost, we hate that people are going to see it as we don’t respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football,” he said. “We know people are going to see it that way.”

He said many players were angered by the president’s remarks Friday but were conflicted as to how to show their displeasure.

Many have family members – “Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters” – that serve in the military. Cooks’ father and uncle, for example, were in the Marines.

The players met Saturday, and went to chapel to discuss their faith and how to proceed.

“We just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect,” said McCourty.

“Obviously, it won’t be seen as the right thing to everybody, but I think in our hearts, what we focused on the most, was that we were trying to do the right thing today.”

McCourty is right. To some people, there is no gray area when it comes to the national anthem.

In speaking to several groups of fans tailgating before the game – a small sampling to be sure – everyone said the players should stand for the national anthem.

They agreed with the players’ right to kneel in protest, but don’t think it should happen during the national anthem.

“There are more good things to stand for than not,” said Liz Page of Braintree, Massachusetts.

Steve Rendall of York suggested other platforms for player protests, such as using their charity events to make their feelings known. “I don’t think they should use football as their mouthpiece,” he said.

“Sports and politics,” said Page, “shouldn’t mix.”

But unfortunately they often do these days. And NFL teams will need to work hard to make sure their locker room isn’t divided over politics. The Patriots don’t believe that will happen to their team.

“I love and support every one of my teammates,” said Solder. “They’re doing what they think is right.

“Outside these walls, craziness might be going on, but inside these walls it’s a great environment. We all love each other and embrace each other’s differences.”

And whether they took a knee or linked arms, the Patriots stood together.

“I’m proud of our guys, and I’m proud of the group and the guys I get to go out there and play football with,” said McCourty. “They’re all great guys. They’re better people than they are football players.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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