ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes on Monday passionately rebuked Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly's reaction to about a dozen Bills players who knelt during the national anthem before Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.
Hughes said he does not understand why Kelly is typically on the sideline before Bills games at New Era Field, adding, "We are the 2017 Buffalo Bills." Hughes also suggested that Kelly is "dividing" the team.
Kelly stood on the sideline and held his right hand over his chest and raised his Bills hat with his left arm during Sunday's anthem. He later posted a photo of himself on Instagram with a message that said he would only kneel to pray. Kelly also wrote that he hoped the Bills would "STAND" and lock arms before Sunday's game in Atlanta.
"I was very disappointed in him," Hughes said of Kelly. "I was very disappointed in how he approached the whole situation. Our team came together and we united as a front, as an organization on how we were going to approach the national anthem. If Jim was going to do what he did, then he should have came to the team and let us know his feelings. He should have let us know how he was going to do the national anthem. Because we didn't know he was going to be there from a team perspective.
"So for him to carry on in this manner, I'm really confused and I'm really upset, because if this is something how he felt and if this was something that truly was how he felt and was on his heart, he should have came to the team and he should have approached that instead of making this a public matter, and doing that on his social page. It was not cool, very unacceptable, and if he has things to say about us as a team, come talk to us."
Among the Bills players who protested during the national anthem Sunday was running back LeSean McCoy, who stretched his legs during the song. Kelly sharply criticized McCoy's decision during a radio interview Monday morning.
"I like LeSean McCoy. Don't get me wrong. But I totally, 100 percent -- I disagree with what he did," Kelly told 97 Rock in Buffalo, New York. "You want to kneel? Fine. But when you go and do what he did yesterday, that sort of bummed me out. And I lost a lot of respect for him. ... You want to kneel? That's your prerogative. I would never do that. I will always stand, thank the good Lord for everything I got. But when you disrespect the way he did and just go by his everyday duty in the national anthem being sung? Uh-uh. I won't go for that."
Later Monday night, Kelly tempered his criticism in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
"I want to be clear that I agree with the reason some NFL players have chosen to peacefully protest, and appreciate players, coaches and organizations being unified," Kelly said in the statement.
Kelly issued the statement by text to clarify the radio remarks. Kelly also told The AP he exchanged texts with McCoy, and has also had a constructive conversation with Hughes.
"I would hope that while we all, myself included, may not agree with using the national anthem as the appropriate forum for such display, we should continue to strive to work through these issues with great respect for each other," he added, before closing with "God Bless."
On Tuesday, Kelly told the Buffalo News that "there are emotions that took over, there's no doubt about it."
Coach Sean McDermott indicated Monday that Kelly will still be welcome on the team's sidelines. McDermott added that he has no plans to speak to the former Bills quarterback who led the team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s. McCoy was not made available to reporters Monday.
In his clarification, Kelly wrote: "Yesterday we saw how passionate players are in regards to the peaceful protests that occurred in many NFL stadiums, including New Era Field where I was in attendance."
"Listen, Jim Kelly is one of the hallmarks of this organization," McDermott said. "He is an alum of this organization, this football team. I don't, at this point, see that changing."
Hughes said he does not realize "half of the time" that Kelly -- who still lives in the Buffalo area and is perhaps the team's most popular former player -- is on the sideline before games.
"After the display of actions that he did, it was pointed out and it was brought to my attention," Hughes said. "I'm not sure that I understand it. We are the 2017 Buffalo Bills. We're focused on the future. We're focused on winning games. If he wants to offer anything of encouragement to our team, to our quarterbacks, to our offense, please provide all of that. We could use all the encouragement we need to figure out how they won games back in those days and be successful as they were. But we're trying to bring a team together, we're trying to bring a community together, we're trying to bring a nation together. And by dividing us, by dividing the team, that doesn't work."
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who stood during the anthem Sunday, said after the game that his teammates have yet to decide whether to continue their protest on Sunday against the Falcons. Taylor said he believed any protests must happen consistently in order to enact change in the country.
"My hope would be that we can kind of keep ourselves away from it and kind of ignore it," center Eric Wood said Monday. "But I don't know that that's realistic. Guys feel really passionate about this. Hopefully a lot of good can come out of it. I know a lot of guys are deeply upset, especially strong supporters of the country and the military. ... I would hope it doesn't just come at each side taking shots at each other. I don't think it's good for the game, I don't think it's good for the country. But realistically, more protests, more issues could come about from it."
McDermott said he was not aware Monday whether his team would demonstrate during the national anthem in Atlanta.
"That's really a question for them at this point," he said. "We are focused on the Atlanta Falcons, and what's going to happen this weekend is what's going to happen. I don't have a crystal ball, unfortunately. We got to make sure we're focused on the task at hand, and that's a football game and putting our best foot forward in Atlanta."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.