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Broncos’ Kareem Jackson shines in Houston homecoming with touchdown, interception and career-high tying 11 tackles

It made for a memorable day for the 31-year-old, who spent his first nine years with the Texans

Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) celebrates after breaking up a pass intended for Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston.
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HOUSTON — In his return to Clutch City, Kareem Jackson made sure the fans didn’t forget about him.

The Broncos’ safety had a 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown on the team’s most notable defensive play of the season, recorded an interception, had three passes defensed and a career-high tying 11 tackles in Denver’s 38-24 mauling of the Texans.

It made for a memorable professional homecoming for the 31-year-old, who spent his first nine years in Houston after being drafted No. 20 overall in 2010.

“It was very emotional, especially once I got here, got off the bus, started seeing familiar faces,” Jackson said. “I had developed relationships with pretty much everybody in the building here. But at the same time —  I had to keep in my mind that it’s a business trip.”

His play underscored that mentality.

Jackson’s touchdown, the fourth score of his career and his first with Denver, put the Broncos in command 14-0 midway through the first quarter. The Texans were driving for a potential tying score when DeShaun Watson completed a pass to KeKe Coutee.

Broncos’ linebacker Alexander Johnson hit Coutee, forcing a fumble, and fellow linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu scooped up the ball. Attaochu was quickly corralled, but had the presence of mind to hand the ball off to Jackson before being tackled. Jackson, once a prolific running back at Westside High in Macon, Ga., then blazed to the end zone, high-stepping the final 10 yards.

“I could see everybody kind of relaxing,” Jackson said. “It was one of those plays where they didn’t know if it was a fumble or an incomplete pass, so one of the things we harp on is playing through the whistle. I never heard the whistle. It was great awareness by Jerry to recover the ball, and I was just right there as he was about to go down.”

Added Attaochu: “(Jackson) said, ‘Jerry, let me get it,’ and I was like, ‘Bro, (heck) yeah.’ When he scored, I felt even better about giving it to him because he was back home.”

It was an omen of things to come for Jackson as his array of clutch plays assisted in thinning the Texans crowd by the start of the second half.

On the drive following his touchdown return, Jackson lit up Houston wideout DeAndre Hopkins on a would-be first-down on 3rd-and-14 in Denver territory. Hopkins didn’t make the catch on what Broncos coach Vic Fangio called a “tone-setting big hit” as the wideout was subsequently helped into the medical tent for a check-up.

“Me being physical is one of the things I do best,” Jackson said. “It can light a spark for some of these guys and we can get going.”

Then, as the Texans were trying to rally late in the second quarter, Jackson stuffed tight end Darren Fells for no gain on a short third-down pass. That led to a failed fourth-down conversion on the next play, and the Broncos proceeded to capitalize on the short field by tacking on another touchdown to go up 31-3 at half.

Fellow Broncos took notice of the safety’s big day, and were happy for their teammate. Jackson had Texans’ fans blowing up Twitter wondering why the organization let him walk in free agency while their own secondary got torched for 309 yards and three touchdowns by rookie quarterback Drew Lock.

“We knew it was his week to come back and put his stamp on the game, and we wanted to rally around him,” cornerback Chris Harris said.

By the time Jackson polished off his performance with an interception off a tipped pass late in the fourth quarter — the ball bouncing around the secondary before falling into his mitts — the most experienced player on the Broncos roster had done plenty enough to warrant a postgame brag.

But instead, Jackson pointed to the collective effort of the Denver defense, noting that despite a few miscues in the second half, the unit backed up the strong effort by Lock & Co.

“All 11 guys pulled the rope in the same direction today,” Jackson said.

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