Next-Day Notebook: Aqib Talib apologizes, Donald Stephenson shows a spark

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **For the first time in years, the Broncos are clearly pursuers in the AFC West, trailing the first-place Raiders by two games and a tiebreaker disadvantage.

Furthermore, the Broncos returned to the locker room Monday knowing that if the postseason began right there and then, it would happen without them -- and knowing that even if they win all of their remaining games, there is no guarantee they would be in the playoffs -- although it would take a precise and unlikely series of circumstances for the Broncos to be out if they close with five wins in a row.

The playoffs are still within reach, but with the hard-charging Dolphins now ahead of the Broncos via a conference-record tiebreaker, their margin for error has evaporated.

"It puts pressure on us," said defensive end Derek Wolfe. "We're the type of team where we don't really feel pressure; we try to apply it. That's something we're going to have to try to emphasize."

But before trying to apply pressure to the Jaguars next Sunday, the Broncos first had to watch film and sift through the issues lingering from Sunday's overtime loss to the Chiefs.

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  1. TALIB APOLOGIZES TO NORWOOD**

Barely 12 hours after Aqib Talib shoved Jordan Norwood on the sideline following Norwood's second muffed punt of the game, the two players patched up matters, with Talib apologizing and leaving no lingering animosity between them.

"Definitely not. It's already squashed," Norwood said. "Me and Aqib sat down one-on-one and talked a little bit and made sure we're on the same page. He's an emotional player; everybody knows that, everybody sees that. He wants this team to win, just as I do."

"We were playing football, we talked about it," Talib said. "It's all good, man."

At the time of the shove, Norwood said he wasn't focused on Talib's action. "I wasn't really worried about what Talib was doing. I'm trying to make plays to help this football team win games, just like Talib is, just like everybody else is," Norwood said. "We're on the same page. We battle together as a team, and we look forward to doing that next week."

Head Coach Gary Kubiak chalked up Talib's actions to the emotion of the moment.

"Obviously emotions get in the way, and those are things that we have to talk about," Kubiak said. "We have to control our emotions."

"You've got to be in them pads and helmets to understand what's going on at the time," Talib said. "I apologized to [Norwood]. We're all good."

Added Norwood: "It's an emotional game. We all want to win the football game, so there's a lot of emotions behind that."

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  1. THE UNUSUAL LOSS OF A LATE LEAD**

"You give us an eight-point lead, I'd bet my game check that nobody is going to score on us, so I'd have been in debt right now," Talib said. "I'm going to bet it every time."

Sunday's game marked just the third time in 21 chances the last two seasons the last two seasons that the Broncos were unable to maintain a one-score lead or a tie game in the last 10 minutes of regulation to get the win.

The loss snapped a streak of 10 consecutive wins -- including playoffs -- with that scenario. The streak began after a 34-27 loss at Pittsburgh last Dec. 20, and was extended by special teams via Justin Simmons' blocked extra point and Will Parks' 84-yard return with 1:22 remaining to preserve a 25-23 win.

"We put that on us," Talib said. "That's the first time the D hasn't closed a game in a long time. It was a lesson learned. We had a lot mistakes, a lot of penalties, a lot of busts in coverage. We can get better from that tape."

Nevertheless, the Chiefs' 75-yard trek at the end of regulation marks two consecutive games in which the defense has allowed a touchdown drive in the final minutes.

"That's a concern," Kubiak said. "I feel like we're playing the same coverages and we're making the same calls. Maybe we're not doing it as aggressive as we do it at other times."

"We made some mental errors. We weren't being smart as football players," Wolfe added. "When it's fourth-and-10, you've got to make that stop. You've got to play to stop them from getting that first down, not from getting a touchdown. That's our fault as players."

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  1. SHOULD BENNIE FOWLER HAVE GONE DOWN BEFORE REACHING THE GOAL LINE?**

Kubiak doesn't think so, even though hitting the ground before scoring would have allowed the offense to chew more clock with the Chiefs out of timeouts.

"I disagree with that," Kubiak said when the idea was brought up at his press conference Monday. "There is a lot of football left to play. We're going to go score right there and keep playing. We have a great defense, so, no."

The scenario is not necessarily a situation that comes up on the sideline or in the huddle when you're facing third down at your own 24-yard line with more than three minutes to play; the take-a-knee situation usually comes into play inside of the two-minute warning.

"Emmanuel says it all the time: 'When you go out there, you're a football player.' In that situation, you're 75 yards out," Fowler said. "We're not in a situation where we're thinking about that; there's three minutes left.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would."

Added Kubiak: "I'm not going to instruct a guy in that situation right there to go down when we're down [in scoring range] and there is a lot of football left to play."

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The Broncos are locked in a tight defensive battle with the division rival Chiefs. (photos by Eric Bakke unless noted)

  1. STEPHENSON RESPONDED TO THE CHALLENGE**

After replacing the struggling Ty Sambrailo at right tackle in the second quarter, Donald Stephenson did not allow a sack and appeared to respond well to the challenge of being pulled from the starting lineup in favor of Sambrailo after a rough outing in New Orleans two weeks earlier.

Stephenson allowed pressure, but did not concede a sack after Sambrailo allowed two sacks to Justin Houston and committed a holding penalty in the first quarter-plus of the game.

"Obviously, I challenged both of those guys to see who was going to play the best," Kubiak said. "I think [Stephenson] played in a way that said, 'Leave me in the game.'

"... Hopefully Donald can take from what he did last night and grow from that and play consistent for us down the stretch."

5. DERBY'S DAY

Look for tight end A.J. Derby to continue receiving opportunities in the coming weeks after he caught four passes for 43 yards Sunday. Two of them moved the chains; another 12-yard catch set the Broncos up for a fourth-and-1 that they converted thanks to a Trevor Siemian sneak.

All of Derby's six receptions since joining the Broncos have come on third downs in the last two games, when he played 84 total snaps, second among tight ends behind starter Virgil Green.

The only negative Sunday night was a false-start penalty, and his need for continued refinement as a blocker.

"He can improve in the physical part. Blocking and those types of things are the things that we need him to improve upon," Kubiak said. "But I think that he has a chance to be a really good player."

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