OAKLAND, Calif. -- Vitriol bubbled to the surface Sunday between old-time rivals. Not the Broncos and Raiders, but Denver cornerback Aqib Talib and Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree.
The two fought, sparking a brawl that led to their ejections on the game's third drive. Talib and Crabtree are, um, linked in history.
The tension traces back to the final game of last season. Talib took exception to Crabtree in general and his gold necklace specifically. On a passing route down field, the pair jawed and Talib ripped off Crabtree's chain. He delighted in the act afterward.
Crabtree wasn't exactly bedazzled. After missing the Oct. 1 meeting with an injury, Crabtree faced Talib for the first time. One play after Chris Harris Jr. was punched by Crabtree, Talib and Crabtree engaged in a blocking match that turned ugly as Talib appeared to pull off Crabtree's chain again. Players said it started with Crabtree slugging Talib.
"He sucker punched me. He didn't come to play football," Harris said of Crabtree. "He came to fight."
Crabtree lost it and tackled Talib to the ground as the players fell out of bounds.
A brawl ensued on the Broncos sideline. Talib and Crabtree sprung loose from the pack, and squared off near the goal line. Talib threw a punch at the helmetless Crabtree, missing with his fist but striking the receiver's face with his elbow. Crabtree responded by poking Talib in the eye. Broncos nose tackle Domata Peko eventually separated the players.
"Talib is good. He got punched. I respect Crabtree like crazy. That wasn't cool," safety Will Parks said. "If someone on the other team disrespects our guys in a physical way, you see the reaction. I think Crabtree was trying to get one of our corners ejected. You have to protect the guys you go to battle with everyday."
Talib and Crabtree were ejected. Oakland's Marshawn Lynch escorted Talib to the locker room tunnel to avoid additional trouble. Crabtree entered a few minutes later, and hopefully the two remained in separate corners. Oakland offensive lineman Gabe Jackson was also tossed for making contact with an official.
Joseph criticized Talib's actions, and the fallout will be interesting since the players sided with the All-Pro cornerback. These type of moments that can define or undermine Joseph going forward. General manager John Elway gave him a vote of confidence, but no one can feel safe given the stench of this losing streak.
As for Talib, Joseph was blunt in his assessment.
"I don’t like it. It's unacceptable. We can’t lose our best players because of a personal battle. That’s a personal battle. This is about the Broncos," Joseph said. "It’s unacceptable, we can’t have it. It’s non-negotiable… We can’t have it."
Talib responded in a similar manner last season at Tennessee after receiver Harry Douglas cut blocked Harris. A melee broke out on the next play, and ended with Talib saying afterward he would fight Douglas if he saw him in the offseason.
Talib's absence haunted the Broncos. With Bradley Roby replacing Talib, Brendan Langley moved into the nickel slot, and Amari Cooper burned him for a touchdown to give Oakland a 7-0 lead. He was beaten on multiple plays, including the final third down conversion that sealed Oakland's victory.