HOUSTON — Kareem Jackson usually ran off the field into the tunnel on the other side of the field after a win at NRG Stadium. For the past nine years, that was the routine.
This time, he headed to the visitors' locker room.
With sunlight streaming onto the field through the stadium's side windows and Broncos fans cheering from the stands, Jackson let loose as he enjoyed the 38-24 win. He flexed his biceps and yelled, expressing some of the emotions that had built up throughout the day and the past year since he left the only NFL franchise he had called home since entering the league.
Jackson had just put on a quintessential performance in his return, setting the Broncos' defensive tone with the brand of physicality, play-making ability and intelligence that had made him Houston's first-round pick back in 2010.
It was exactly the kind of game that not only he wanted to have, but also the kind that all of his teammates wanted for him. Though Jackson hadn't made much of his return during the week, his teammates didn't need him to do so to understand the significance.
This week's Shots of the Game gallery follows Kareem Jackson's return to Houston to face the Texans, from his arrival at NRG Stadium to receiving the game ball in the locker room after the win.
"We were all playing for him," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We knew this was his week to come back here and lay his stamp on the game. We just wanted to ride behind him."
Only the day before the game did Jackson admit that he had something special planned.
"He told me even before the day started, 'I'm going to come out like a wild bandit. I'm not stopping. I'm hitting everything,'" linebacker Todd Davis said. "And you saw it: making plays, interceptions, fumbles to the house. What more could you ask for when you play the team that let you go."
With the team rallying around him, he returned the favor with game-changing plays built on outstanding teamwork.
The first, a 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown, only resulted because outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu had the awareness to lateral the ball to Jackson as Attaochu was being tackled. Jackson also brought in a tip-drill interception and added 11 total tackles, including one behind the line, and three pass break-ups.
Put succinctly, Jackson had "a hell of a game," as Head Coach Vic Fangio said.
"He had the interception, the fumble return for the touchdown, had a bunch of PBUs, was active in the tackling," Fangio said. "But also [he] had a tone-setting big hit, which got us off the field. It was on a third-down play, would have been a first down."
That hit, a jarring blow deep downfield on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins as quarterback Deshaun Watson tried to extend the play with his feet, said everything about the kind of impact the Broncos had in mind from Jackson when they signed him as a free agent in March.
"That was huge," safety Justin Simmons said. "… I just remember that like, 'All right, he's here to play. We've got to rally around him and make some plays for him so we can get a win in this stadium.'"
That kind of hit was familiar to running back Phillip Lindsay. During a 2018 game between the Broncos and the Texans, Jackson lifted Lindsay off his feet on a memorable play. That memory sprung to mind again Sunday as Lindsay discussed why Jackson means so much to the team.
"Kareem's a beast," Lindsay said. "… There's no words that can explain what that man is. He's 185 pounds just like myself, and he does the things he does. He puts fear in people's hearts out there. And I just think he came with an edge, and he was really, really focused coming back. The thing is, how do you get rid of a guy like that? He, right there, is the NFL. And the fact that you get rid of him and we get him, I'm excited. I'm happy that he's on our team because of what he did to me last year."
And even if Jackson didn't want to approach the game differently from any other, his teammates' sentiments gave it a different feel anyway.
"It was real special," Jackson said. "Especially when we got the guys kind of rallying behind me like that. But for me I wanted to treat it as another game on the schedule. Obviously, I knew I was coming in here early in the year. It's just all about me being a piece of the puzzle. I didn't want to make it all about me and my return here. At the end of the day we had to come here, we had to execute as a team. Regardless if I play here or if it was another team. It was all about executing today and just coming in getting the job done as a team."
After getting that team win, Jackson received a game ball from Fangio and was hoisted into the air by his teammates in a euphoric locker room.
Then he left the stadium that was his for so long, walking out through the visitors' exit, victorious once more.