ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Barely 20 hours after the Broncos fell 16-3 to the Patriots, the offensive struggles and the Broncos' increasingly muddled postseason outlook were not the primary topics when Head Coach Gary Kubiak answered questions Monday.
Instead, the aftermath of an emotional post-game exchange between Russell Okung and Aqib Talib first reported by NFL.com's Mike Silver was a key talking point. Kubiak downplayed the exchange, and Okung said that he and Talib had subsequently spoken, putting the matter behind them.
- KUBIAK: "THERE'S NO DIVISION" ON THE TEAM**
And if there was a risk of that, Kubiak, a former player with nine seasons of NFL experience, said he would not allow animosity to reach the point where it fractured the team.
"I would never let something be divisive. I wouldn't let that happen," he said. "If I didn't see guys in there working and bleeding and battling each other, that wouldn't be football. So that doesn't bother me. That's part of the game."
Okung said he and Talib had a discussion and "definitely made amends" in the wake of the exchange. To him, the matter is "pretty much over."
"It was just an instance where you have two guys that are very emotional, very competitive and who really want what's best for this team," Okung said. "It's not a big issue. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want to win games."
"There's no division," Kubiak added. "That's battling, and that's part of football." /p>
With a temperature that started at 18 degrees at kickoff and dropped as the sun fell beneath the Rockies, the Broncos and their fans did their best to stay warm. (Photos by Gabriel Christus, unless noted)
- NORWOOD'S ROUGH DAY**
Kubiak defended his decision to use Jordan Norwood on Sunday after utilizing rookie Kalif Raymond on punt returns the previous two weeks. Norwood muffed his first attempt at fielding a punt in the first quarter, leading to a Patriots field goal, and lost a fumble on the Broncos' final offensive play, which was the only time Trevor Siemian targeted him Sunday.
Norwood now has five fumbles, a total only exceeded by quarterbacks, who handle the football on every offensive snap. Norwood has 64 touches this season -- 20 receptions, one carry, three kickoff returns, 25 punt returns and 15 that were fielded for fair catches.
"He's got to handle the ball better," Kubiak said. "But he's also made some big plays for this team.
"I put him back there. I'm the guy that put him back there. I believe in him, and I think he's done a lot of good thing for this team. I'm going to battle with guys. So that was me giving him the opportunity to do it. We've just got to do it better."
Kubiak said the notion of inserting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on punt returns has come up.
"Yes, obviously I'm going to take it to [Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis] and see what we have to do about it and if they want me back there then I'm going to get back there," Sanders said. "I think Kalif Raymond [can do it] and I still have complete confidence in Jordan [Norwood]. Those guys can get the job done, but if they want me to do it I'll do it."
- SANDERS' TAKE ON NORWOOD**
Few players understand the burden of a punt returner like Sanders, who has fielded 65 regular-season punts during his career, returning 34 for a career 8.5-yard average.
"It's the hardest job in the National Football League, if you ask me, especially if it's a muffed one because now the crowd is going crazy," he said. "You have a ball that's way in the air and everybody is sitting and saying, 'Catch it!' [and] 'Oh, I could have caught that,' when you have 11 guys running the field trying to knock your head off.
"First of all, I have the utmost respect for Jordan and any punt returner that's in college, high school or NFL. That is a tough job and that's coming from me. It's an extremely tough job and he's been doing well. He has the longest punt return in the history of the Super Bowl. He has done a great job for us.
"Is it fair that we're being hard on him? Yes, it is fair because obviously he has do his job, but it is a tough job. I respect him for going back there and doing it. He's been doing it well, but the past two games he hasn't and that happens.
"It's just like anybody. It can happen to any receiver or quarterback. You have those two-game droughts where you're doing bad and everybody is trying to mash on you head and tell you that you're not doing a great job, but you just have to be able to recover and understand that this game has highs and lows. You're going to have lows, but you have to get back on the horse and ride and try to make them highs."
- TURNER GETS A LOOK**
Guard Billy Turner's performance in practice since joining the Broncos off waivers from Baltimore on Oct. 17 was a reason why the Broncos activated him and played him on two series in place of starting right guard Michael Schofield during Sunday's game, Kubiak noted.
"The idea was this: Billy's done some good things in practice. We've been impressed with what he's done," Kubiak said. "So we told Michael that [Turner] was going to spot-play for him in a couple of series in the game, and he went in, and I think it's something we can build from. I would say it's encouraging.
Turner played 14 snaps, working one series in each half -- including the Broncos' longest march of the day, an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a Trevor Siemian interception on the first play of the second quarter.
Turner's background is in zone-blocking-based schemes; the offensive line coach in Miami when the Dolphins drafted him was John Benton, who worked eight seasons under Kubiak in the same position with the Texans. Turner noted upon his arrival in Denver that the scheme fit him better than the one to which the Dolphins transitioned this year under new head coach Adam Gase.
"Billy deserved an opportunity, and took advantage of it," Kubiak said.
- HEUERMAN READY IF NEEDED**
With Virgil Green and A.J. Derby both in the league-mandated post-concussion protocol, Jeff Heuerman could be in line for his most extensive work to date, one day after playing 28 snaps, matching his previous career high set in Week 4 at Tampa Bay.
The second-year tight end was targeted on three consecutive plays during the Broncos' longest drive of the day, catching two passes for 40 yards, including a 31-yard reception that was the Broncos' longest gain of the game.
"I'm impressed with what Jeff did," Kubiak said. "... We all have to be very encouraged about how he played. Hopefully we'll get a lot of work out of him here in these next two weeks, but I'm very encouraged about how he responded."
Heuerman has just four receptions this year, but two have gone for over 25 yards, as he notched a 29-yard catch down the seam against the Bengals in Week 4.