Ravens players kneeled before the national anthem and stood during the playing of the anthem. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
The atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium during Sunday's national anthem was tense after a week of fierce debate over President Trump's criticisms of the player protests that have swept the NFL. Even before the anthem, Baltimore fans booed as most members of the Ravens linked arms and knelt in prayer.
But Ravens players stood for the anthem itself, and there was no mass exodus from the stands as the Ravens prepared to play a crucial divisional game against the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers also stood during the anthem after not coming out of the locker room for last Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.
Ravens tight end Ben Watson said that fans have the right to boo, even if it was during a moment of prayer.
"It's something that we felt like we had to do to support some of our teammates," said QB Joe Flacco when asked about the crowd booing. "You're never surprised about reaction." (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
“Fans pay for their tickets and they get to say what they want to say,” Watson said after the 26-9 loss to the Steelers. “We decided as a team collectively to just have a moment of silence with everything that’s going on. We wanted to pray for unity, we wanted to show the unity amongst each other, and that’s what we decided to do.”
The United States Air Force Heritage of America Band performed the anthem after the team’s anthem singer for the past four years, Joey Odoms, resigned during the week.
Throughout the NFL Sunday, the number of protests were down. Except for the San Francisco 49ers, who had about 30 players kneel because they played last Thursday the day before Trump's comments, most players stood for the anthem.
"I don't care who you are, it's just a bad situation for everyone involved. It's a situation you just can't win," Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace said after the game. "You try and please everybody, try and go the right way about things. But sometimes, it's just going to fall on deaf ears. You just have to know why you're doing it, know the good that you're doing it for."
Some fans wore stars-and-stripes-themed attire instead of Ravens gear. Others said they would be done with the team if players protested during the anthem as they had the previous week in London.
"It's flag and country first, football second," said Tom Rose of White Marsh, who wore an American flag polo shirt and baseball cap. "I'm here. I have season tickets and I called the Ravens and asked 'Is anybody going to take a knee this week?' They said they're not announcing what the Ravens are doing.
"I said, 'Well, this will be the last game I go to if someone takes a knee.'"
But the reaction to the Ravens' actual pre-anthem protest was more measured.
"I'm a constitutionalist. Last week, I had a problem with it because they did it on foreign soil," said Tim Troutman of Timonium. "If they do it on American soil, it's an exercise of free speech. And I think there are a whole lot of Baltimoreans and Marylanders that are okay with that. I really believe that. I believe it was a bad move to do it on foreign, but if you're going to do it, do it here at home."
The Ravens asked fans to join in a silent prayer before the anthem, with public address announcer Bruce Cunningham urging that "we as a nation embrace kindness, unity, equality and justice for all Americans."
Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said the player were hoping to get their message across.
"We just wanted to show to our fans that we still do stand in solidarity, but we don't want anybody to lose the narrative of why we're doing it," he said. "We don't want people to think we're disrespecting the flag or the military or anything like that."
Trump added rocket fuel to the debate when he tore into players before last weekend's games, saying any who knelt should be fired.
In response, more than 100 players, including about a dozen Ravens, took a knee last Sunday. Some whole teams, the Steelers among them, stayed off the sidelines until after the anthem.
"We stand with our brothers," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said in explaining why he was among those who knelt.
Many league executives, including Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Commissioner Roger Goodell, issued statements supporting the players.
But the issue did not die there. Trump continued to criticize the NFL on Twitter, and fans expressed their displeasure with the protests.
In Baltimore, fans burned their Ravens garb, threatened to give up their season tickets and drafted a petition to have the statue of Ray Lewis, who knelt with his former team on Sunday, removed from in front of M&T Bank Stadium.
Ravens players, meanwhile, said they had discussed how they would behave during the anthem going forward. But to a man, they said they would keep those plans private.
Sunday's NFL action began just as it had the previous week — in London with a game shown early in the morning in the United States. Three members of the Miami Dolphins kneeled, while the Saints stood during the anthem.
Will this weekend be the end of the protests? Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was unsure.
"We haven't had extended talks about how long it's going to go on, but I would assume so," he said. "I would like to believe that we addressed it, and we feel good about it, where we are as a team, and now we can move on, and like I said, get back to playing football."