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Special win for besieged Jaguars

(TSX / STATS) -- JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' 29-7 rout of divisional rival Houston was as signature a win as the franchise has had in years. When a team has recorded only 17 wins in five seasons, any victory would seem like a signature conquest. But there was something special about this one. The Jaguars were opening the season on the road and had not won a season opener since 2011.

They were starting the season with numerous questions about their starting offensive line, waiting until Friday to announce who the starting five would be. Then there was the emotion that Houston fans, players and supporters were feeding off as they strived to put the horrendous effects of Hurricane Harvey behind them.

All the aforementioned set up another tough start of the season for the Jaguars. Yet, beginning with their game-opening drive that resulted in a field goal and fueled by a relentless pass rush on Houston quarterbacks that resulted in a franchise-record 10 sacks, Jacksonville was at the peak of its game from start to finish.

It should have been a victory that set off a wild, jubilant celebration by the Jaguars, a young team with 13 of 25 defensive players in either their first or second year. But the post-game gala was anything but. First and foremost on the mind of so many of the players and coaching staff was the well-being of their families back in Jacksonville that was about to be ravished from the rain and wind from Hurricane Irma. Then there was the status of one of the team's most-liked, most-respected and probably most-valuable players, wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Robinson came up limping on the first series of the game, before the Jaguars had recorded their initial first down. It didn't take long for the word to filter throughout the locker room that Robinson was likely looking at a torn ACL and would probably be sidelined for the rest of the year. The official word didn't come from head coach Doug Marrone until 12 hours later when he confirmed that it was indeed a torn ACL. That's when Marrone offered his explanation of why the celebration was mild at best.

"As far as last night I think we were tired," Marrone said. "I think the players left it all on the field. They played extremely hard. That showed up in the film. They played with a lot of emotion. They played very physical. I think that when you play those types of games and you are finished you have to leave it all out there.

"I think when teams lay it on the line and they play extremely hard and they put everything into it and it is a physical game against a very challenging opponent - I think our players were where they should be. They should be tired. They should be mentally drained. They just put 60 minutes of what they feel is trying to put the best football that they can put out."

With regards to the injury to Robinson, Marrone said while he was confident that others would step up and take up the slack for the loss of the team's top wide receiver, he felt especially remorseful for all the hard work that Robinson had put forth in training camp.

"We have confidence in Marqise (Lee) and Allen (Hurns) to step up," Marrone said. "To sit here and say, 'Hey, it doesn't hurt, next man up type thing.' We all understand that in our profession. What I think about is how hard A-Rob has worked and how much he's put in. I know what type of year he wanted to have. I think that's the thing that gets me as a coach more than anything: when you watch a player that's done everything that you've asked him to do and was really set up for a great year. To sustain an injury, it's a blow."

Then there was the status of the team, the families, the homes. The hurricane shut down much of Jacksonville for Sunday and Monday including the airport. It left the Jaguars stranded in Houston for two extra days. The team wasn't scheduled to arrive back in Jacksonville until early afternoon on Tuesday.

"I hope everyone is safe with families back in Jacksonville," Marrone said Monday in a teleconference from Houston. "That's our major concern. Today, for a lot of us, it really should be all of us, is 9/11. It's another moment to take a step back and think about all those first responders, the people in the towers. It affects me a lot because one of my teammates was in the tower, another friend of mine growing up was a fireman that passed in it. Our prayers go out to those families, as well."

Marrone credits "forward-thinking" by his staff and Jaguars officials for easing the disruption of game-planning for next Sunday's contest against Tennessee. As of Monday, there was still uncertainty as to whether or not the Jaguars would be able to host the game due to the flooding that hit the downtown streets in the city and near EverBank Field. As for the decision to spend an extra day in Houston before returning home, Marrone said it was the right call.

"The first thing that we have to look at is what gives us - safety first in everything that we do, " Marrone said. "From my understanding, the airport remains closed. Therefore, if the airport remains closed, it's a safety issue and we're not going to try to force anything or try to get back or try to do that.

"The one thing that I have been impressed with is, again, our operations people. It hasn't caused any issues with us. Today was a normal day from the standpoint of scheduling for the players. It's not a normal day in what's going on and also from a game-planning perspective. We were forward-thinking, bringing everything along with us. From that standpoint, the surroundings are a little bit different, but we're getting work accomplished."

The Jaguars reviewed tapes and had their normal post-game meetings in various ballrooms in the hotel. There was a nearby YMCA with enough weight equipment that players could get in their normal weightlifting workout. Those responsible for preparing tapes on the team's next opponent brought all the equipment to Houston, just in case the team did get delayed in its return home.

Players are normally off on Tuesday so there won't be any work or watching tape or other team activities other than to fly home and get ready for a normal Wednesday practice.

It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to the Jaguars missing out on celebrating one of their biggest wins in recent years. On the other hand, if they continue to play like they did on Sunday against the Texans, there will be plenty of other opportunities for normal post-game celebrations.

Updated September 12, 2017

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