OAKLAND — Of all the nonsense that transpired in this dump on Sunday — grown men throwing sucker punches, playing a quarterback who can’t play, the Broncos pretending that winning was the priority — two things stood out like seagull dung on a black tarp.
One, Oakland fans are rooting for a team that’s leaving them for Las Vegas.
Two, Vance Joseph finally drew a line in the locker room... and used Aqib Talib to do it.
I’ll start with the second one, since Raiders fans being knuckleheads is old news.
That’s the guy who sent Vance Joseph over the edge? Aqib Talib? The team captain who is adored and revered in the locker room? The one who stood up for his college teammate and close friend, Chris Harris Jr.? That's the guy?
Not the second-year quarterback, Paxton Lynch, whose first start this season looked like the first time he’s thrown a football? Not the players who televise practice sessions on social media, propose marriage during a game or can’t do their one-and-only job, catch a punt? Talib’s the guy you have an issue with?
“It’s unacceptable,” Joseph said of Talib getting ejected after brawling with Raiders coward Michael Crabtree during a 21-14 loss. “We can’t lose our best players because of a personal battle.”
Look, this embarrassment of a Broncos season — they’ve lost seven straight for the first time since 1967 — is not all on Joseph. Not hardly. But each time the moment is on Joseph, he fails.
Sunday afternoon under gloomy skies next to the Bay, he failed by waiting until Lynch suffered an ankle injury to change quarterbacks. Anyone with eyeballs could see Lynch is no more capable of winning an NFL game than you or me. If the Broncos play Trevor Siemian — just for a half — they would’ve had a chance to erase a 21-0 deficit and make their rival sweat a little. As it turned out, Siemian almost brought them back anyway, scoring two touchdowns in a game that was decided the minute Lynch was named starter.
“I thought I played pretty well,” said Lynch, who led the offense to two first downs in a half.
“I thought Paxton was doing OK,” Joseph said.
See, the coach had no problem with Lynch appearing wholly unprepared for his third NFL start. He thought it better to make an example out of Talib.
“It’s nonsense. It’s silly. I don’t know exactly what happened, but it can’t happen,” Joseph said.
Let’s be clear: Joseph is right. He’s right that the Raiders losing Crabtree (who’s averaged four catches and a paltry 38 receiving yards against the “No Fly Zone”) is not even close to the Broncos losing Talib (one of the league’s top cornerbacks even on a bad day). Considering his history of eye pokes and off-the-field gun usage, Talib could face a suspension from the NFL's powers-that-be. Dumb move, 'Lib.
But after all that’s gone on with the Broncos season — and Joseph waiting, waiting, waiting until Week 11 to make changes to the coaching staff and roster — Talib is not the guy you go after.
Talib’s the guy whose wild, unchecked spirit used to personify these Broncos.
Talib’s the guy you go after if you want the locker room to turn on you.
Instead, Joseph made Talib another scapegoat. Bold move, Cotton. Let’s see how it plays out.
“You can only control what you can control,” Von Miller said afterward.
The Broncos have lost all control of this season. And it will get worse before it gets better. All those teams the Broncos used to beat up and laugh at on their way to the team bus? They’re exacting revenge. The Raiders got their revenge Sunday in front of a crowd of 53930 that inexplicably is still supporting a team that can’t wait to skip town in 2019. The Chargers, Chiefs, Pats and Bengals already got theirs.
"Bad (expletive, rhymes with spit), it comes in waves," linebacker Shane Ray said.
Among the next up are the Dolphins (coached by Adam Gase, the ex-Broncos coordinator, who would love to land a punch), Colts (who have a history with the Broncos) and Chiefs (who used Denver as a scout team the first time around). Now the Broncos have two choices at quarterback: start Lynch (he said he expects his bum ankle to be ready for next Sunday against Miami) and play for a top-five draft pick, or start Siemian as a form of chaos control.
But if the locker room turns on Joseph after he turned on Talib?
“I probably would’ve done the same thing if he (Crabtree) punched me in the stomach,” said safety Darian Stewart, sticking up for the heart and soul of the Broncos, the "No Fly Zone."
“He (Crabtree) sucker-punched me,” Harris said. “I’ve never seen that before in the NFL.”
For the record, Talib left the locker room before it was opened to media. Looked sharp, too, in a snazzy new suit. Think I even saw a gold chain.
Maybe he took it from Crabtree.
"I guess because we shut him down pretty good every game since he's been here, he just wanted to come out fighting today," Harris said.
Just remember, Broncos Country. It could be worse. Your team could be moving to Las Vegas.