According to NFL.com, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak had to break up a locker room shouting match between defensive backs and offensive linemen, which escalated when Kubiak asked if anyone would like to address the team after its16-3 loss to the New England Patriots.
Broncos left tackle and relative newcomer Russell Okung had volunteered to speak, but cornerback Aqib Talibobjected. Yelling between the two groups then erupted, according to the NFL.com report, which cited sources in the room.
"Pretty much your classic offense-versus-defense divide," one player told NFL.com.
Multiple team sources told ESPN on Sunday night that the defensive backs and offensive linemen have exchanged postgame words on at least one other occasion in recent weeks.
Denver (8-6), the defending Super Bowl champion, is in third place in the AFC West.The Broncos must win out and would still need help to earn a wild-card berth.
"Everybody's frustrated," cornerback Chris Harris Jr.told ESPN on Sunday. "We feel like we played almost good enough defense to win that game. I don't know if [we] ever kept [Tom] Brady under 16 points, and we did that today. That's what makes you sick, when we come out and play stout like we did today."
A smattering of Broncos defensive players called their time spent on the field in recent games "our quota." The group has played at least 76 snaps in four of the past seven games -- including 81 plays in Jacksonville -- a high number for any defense.
On Sunday, the Patriots had the ball for 73 plays.
"I definitely understand their frustration," Okung told NFL.com, in reference to the Broncos' defensive backs. "They played well enough to win, and they held that team to 16 points, which a lot of teams don't do. We're an emotional team. That's what makes us so good. To me, that's part of who we are."
"When our defense is out there, they're an emotional group, and they hold themselves to a high standard," added Okung, who signed with the Broncos in March after six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. "As an offense, we need to do the same. So I think [their frustration] is warranted. We've got to be better."
Broncos safetyT.J. Wardcalled the incident a byproduct of "a little frustration."
"We are an emotional group," Ward told NFL.com. "That's why we play as well as we do. What happened wasn't even anything major -- just a little frustration. We're all trying to win."
Kubiak has consistently said he believes the team has good leadership and has worked through previous heat-of-the-moment blowups. Talib pushed Jordan Norwoodafter the wide receiver muffed a punt in a Nov. 27 loss. Norwood muffed another punt Sunday that led to a Patriots field goal.
Talib and Norwood met one-on-one the morning after their incident to smooth things over. After Sunday's game, Talib took a softer public stance when he was asked if frustrations had boiled over.
"That's really not going to take us nowhere, though, just being frustrated," Talib said. "And beefing with the offense [is] not going to get us nowhere. We're going to ride. We're going to stick together."