HOUSTON, Texas – There were celebrations, and smiles. With good reason.
This was fun.
That's one thing about the Jaguars' 29-7 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium Sunday. There indeed was the really good feeling of a one-sided, tone-setting, season-opening victory.
There's another, just-as-important thing to know:
The celebration was muted, and the joy happened amid a real awareness that while this was a very good day for the Jaguars, it was also a very real day in the real word.
Sunday in Houston happened knowing Hurricane Irma moved toward North Florida as the game was played. It happened knowing about destruction. It happened knowing about fear – a fear that's real and warranted. And knowing those things brought perspective.
"Our thoughts are back with the people in Florida," Doug Marrone said following his first regular-season opener as the Jaguars' head coach. "That's really where we're at as a team, as an organization and a staff. Our thoughts and prayers are back with them hoping they're safe – the first responders and all of the people that are doing what they need to do. Obviously, we went out and they played."
The Jaguars did that – and then some. They played at a higher level than outsiders imagined possible, at a level perhaps only Jaguars players and coaches they could play. And make no mistake:
This was as impressive and as important a victory as this organization has had in a long time.
A road victory. Against the two-time defending division champions.
Ten sacks registered. No sacks allowed. A hundred yards rushing for the first-round running back. No interceptions for the much-maligned quarterback.
All of that and more in a head coach's first season-opener with the organization.
That's impressive, tone-setting stuff.
That meant some satisfaction – and yes, it meant some talk of vindication in a locker room with a real sense of optimism about what's to come on the field.
At the same time, Irma was a reality.
"My family's in Tampa; they're hunkered down," center Brandon Linder said. "Everyone in here has friends and family all over Florida. We're praying for everyone and we're hoping this brings some smiles in Jacksonville."
Indeed, this was an eerie day one from the start. For players. For coaches. For staff. Yes, what happened in Houston mattered. The NFL is a profession, and professionals work and perform whatever the circumstance.
At the same time, all involved realized that Sunday mattered only in context – and it's the "in-context" part that mattered the most.
For the Texans, the early context was cathartic. It's not accurate to say the effects of Hurricane Harvey are behind this city, but it is accurate to say Sunday's pre-game game felt galvanizing. The emotion when future-Hall-of-Fame-turned-Texas-icon J.J. Watt was introduced waving a Texas flag … that was real stuff.
For the Jaguars, the context was about Irma. Many on Saturday watched news and communicated with family members for updates. No doubt it lingered in many minds on Sunday. Then came the game.
The Jaguars dominated. Start to finish. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 100 yards. Defensive end Calais Campbell had four of the team's franchise-record 10 sacks. Quarterback Blake Bortles threw a touchdown without an interception; he was efficient.
The offensive line, criticized throughout preseason, did not allow a sack to a Texans defensive front considered to be among the league's best. It was a stunning performance for a much-maligned group.
The Jaguars were the better team. All. Game. Long.
Their post-game comments reflected a happy team, but one with the perspective that one impressive season-opening victory does not an entire season make. They reflected, too, a team with more on its mind than football.
"That was another reason we went so hard; I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," said linebacker Telvin Smith, who grew up in Valdosta in South Georgia and played collegiately at Florida State. "Don't get me wrong: respect for the people in Houston, love for the people in Houston, prayers for the people in Houston.
"But in Florida, our families are fighting, you know what I mean? That gave us the concentration. This is all we can do. We can't control back home. We can just send our prayers, go out and play hard for them and give them something to be happy about.
"That's what we went out and did today. We were saying, 'Pray for Florida.' '
Marrone talked a lot this week about not trying to keep players from being distracted. It was the right message, and it felt true and heartfelt. There was no point in trying to have players and coaches not think about the events surrounding the game, the events they left behind.
You couldn't be human and not think about those things.
That was Marrone's message, and he couldn't have been more right.
And that's the best way – the only way, really – to consider what happened in Houston Sunday. Yes, this was a football game – but it was only a football game. And while there was the requisite post-game celebrating, and smiles. And while those smiles were oh-so-deserved, they happened in context.
You couldn't be human Sunday and not know that.