DENVER -- In the moments after the Broncos' 20-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the team's sixth consecutive loss, John Elway's assertion the Broncos had gotten "a little bit soft'' during their losing streak was still reverberating in the locker room.
Elway, the team's top football decision-maker, made his comments at a Friday night team event and also expressed support for first-year coach Vance Joseph, as he seemed to direct his criticism at the team's players. And it was clear he got his players' attention.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said Sunday's loss could be more a reflection of the teams' talent levels.
"Everybody in this organization is accountable for how we're playing right now,'' Harris said. "Ain't nothing soft in my bones.''
Asked if he was bothered by the comments, linebacker Brandon Marshall said: "Absolutely, absolutely. Because I'm out there on the field, I'm out there on the field, I know my guys are out there on the field, none of us are soft. We go out there and bust our ass week to week, play good technique, we work hard, we're not just getting pushed over, pushed around ... for him to call us soft just rubbed us the wrong way. But he can say what he wants to say.''
Marshall was asked if "soft'' was among the worst things a player could hear.
"Especially for an NFL player, a football player, our game is so physical, you get shunned out of this league for being soft,'' Marshall said. "Coaches don't teach soft. Players, our personalities, we're not soft.''
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas said he felt like Elway was "basically calling out everybody" and that Joseph reminded the team of the Hall of Fame quarterback's comments Saturday night.
"I felt like everybody came out and fought hard, but we came up short ... I just think (Elway) is telling the truth," Thomas said. "He wouldn't have said it if he wasn't telling the truth. We've lost six in a row, I think there's a little softness in us somewhere and he's talking about everybody, including me.''
Speaking Friday night at a ceremony to honor former Broncos coach Red Miller and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis, Elway made his strongest comments about the team's current struggles. And that was before Sunday's loss that dropped the Broncos to 3-7 and gave them their first six-game losing streak since 1990.
"I think at this point we're still trying to figure out how we can get through it,'' Elway said Friday night. "So, there's no question at the end of the year we'll evaluate it and we'll look back and see what happened. But I will tell you I think we got a little bit soft. To be dead honest with you, we got a little bit soft.
"We went 4-0 in the preseason, we started out 3-1, then we get a bye week, and if you exhale in this league, you're in trouble. To be dead honest with you, I think we exhaled, and it's hard to recover from that. So, it's a lesson that hopefully we all learned and prevent it from happening again.''
The Broncos were 3-1 after a Week 4 win over the Oakland Raiders, had a bye week and then were upset, at home, 23-10 by the previously winless New York Giants. That victory over the Broncos is still the Giants' only win this season.
The Broncos haven't won since Oct. 1. They experienced blowout losses -- to the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, being outscored 92-39 -- in the two weeks leading up to Sunday's loss to Bengals.
"He's the head guy, his comments, he's the boss, he said what he said,'' said Broncos linebacker Von Miller said of Elway. "I was kind of taken aback by it, and you should be if you have any type of emotion about you. If you just take a look at it, truth is, that's what we've been putting out there, that's the type of team that we've developed into. That's what we got, the truth; he was telling the truth.''
Joseph said after Sunday's loss that he was "initially offended'' by Elway's comments.
"John watches this team every day,'' Joseph said. "... When he said that, I was initially offended; but in some aspects, he's right. When you've lost that many games in a row, you have to do things in a tougher manner. If you're not winning, that's an issue in football; football is a physical, tough sport. So, if you're not winning, that word comes up. I sat back and thought about what he said, and in some aspects, he's right.''
Several players said Elway's comments were a topic in their meetings Saturday night and that they had hoped to show a little more than they did against the Bengals. The Broncos' defense held the Bengals to 190 total yards, including just 49 yards rushing, but the Bengals turned two Broncos' turnovers into 13 points, which proved to be the difference.
"He's the boss, he made this team; if he feels it's soft, then that's what it is,'' safety Darian Stewart said. "We haven't played to show him; we've dropped five, six in a row, I lost count. It's sure frustrating. As a man ... you want to come out there and show I'm not soft. But we didn't show it today, I don't know.''