HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins find themselves in similar situations entering Thursday's game in Houston (8:20 p.m. Fox/NFL Network). Both are 4-3 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
They were in similar situations last season, too, but in 2017 they were dealing with adversity on and off the field.
"Basically, it affects you more mentally than anything else, because your focus is not necessarily on football. Your focus is on your family and what they're going through and what's happening." Houston's Romeo Crennel on dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane
It started with two devastating hurricanes -- Harvey in Houston and Irma in Miami. Harvey hit during the Texans' third preseason game, leaving them unable to get back to Houston. They relocated to Dallas for a few days. The Texans and Cowboys were scheduled to play the fourth preseason game in Houston and initially moved it to AT&T Stadium. But once the Texans were told they would finally be able to return to Houston, the teams canceled the game.
Irma hit Miami on Sept. 10 and forced the Dolphins to postpone their season opener against Tampa Bay. The game was moved to Week 11, which meant both teams essentially lost their bye week. The NFL announced the postponement on Wednesday of that week. The Dolphins traveled to Oxnard, California, later that weekend, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross paid for players, employees and their families to fly back and forth from California during the week of the hurricane.
On the field, both teams lost their starting quarterbacks for a significant portion of the season because of knee injuries. Miami's Ryan Tannehill needed season-ending surgery in August after tearing an ACL in practice, and Houston's Deshaun Watson did the same in early November.
Members of both organizations talked to ESPN reporters Sarah Barshop (Texans) and Cameron Wolfe (Dolphins) about the unique circumstances each team dealt with last season.
What is your first memory from the hurricane?
Johnathan Joseph, Houston, CB: "The devastation. Just thinking about all the people that it affected, just the way it sets the city back financially [and the] hard times for families just to regain just their everyday life structure."
Ja'Wuan James, Miami, OT: "They were holding us forever, wouldn't tell us what would happen. Half of Florida, I feel like, was gone already. We were waiting to see if we're going to play the game or not."
J.J. Watt, Houston, DL: "Just being on the road. Being away from it and watching it on TV and seeing all the destruction it caused from afar and not being able to be here. I mean, my girlfriend was here, so just obviously making sure she's safe and making sure everybody back here was safe. But it's a scary thing. I wish that upon nobody."
T.J. McDonald, Miami, S: "I'm from California. I didn't know anything about hurricanes. I just knew I had to get the heck up out of here. A lot of guys have been out here -- Cam [Wake], Reshad [Jones] -- in Miami for so long that you're able to defer to them whether you should go anyway. They calmed me down a little bit."
Christian Covington, Houston, LB: "I wanted to know if my family was OK. That was the craziest thing, just because you're put in a stance of uncertainty whether or not your house is OK, whether your neighbors are OK, and then obviously if you have family staying with you, it's like obviously that's the No. 1 concern and question: Are they OK?"
D.J. Reader, Houston, DL: "The city banding together. Just to get things right and help people out and try and figure things out and just get everybody safe. That was really the biggest thing for me."
What was the most difficult part for you after the storm?
Jamey Rootes, Texans president: "Just being concerned about your family. While we were one of the fortunate ones who did not take on water in our house, just the not knowing over several days ... Are they OK? What's it like? It just really gnaws at you. And all of our players and our coaching staff were experiencing that."
Scott Bullis, Dolphins senior director of team operations: "Probably the uncertainty, not knowing early in that week if that game was going to be postponed, played at home or at another stadium in a different part of the country. Usually you get the road-trip schedule in April and your first road trip isn't until August. We made the decision on Wednesday to go to California, and we flew out on Friday. It typically takes three months to plan that. We had 48 hours."
Covington: "[Being in Dallas and] being in a position where you're so helpless, because you literally cannot be there, physically being able to help out anybody that needs help -- especially with everybody who had to deal with family members in the Houston area. That was really the hardest part."
Adam Gase, Miami head coach: "The hardest thing was the bye-week thing. [The NFL] called and said the players need to be out of the building in this many hours because they are on their bye week. ... Then we had to figure out how we get them all to L.A., because everybody was in different spots."
Romeo Crennel, Houston defensive coordinator: "Well, for us, we left here before the storm hit. ... Then watching on the news and then the players talking to their families who were still here, and some of them were having difficulty trying to find a place to stay -- neighbors, friends or whatever it was. And then the players not being able to be with the families."
James: "I had my dogs with me. All the flights we tried to buy were all booked, so I had to drive to Atlanta. It took me 22 hours to drive to Atlanta. I drove to Atlanta with my girl and my dogs. I flew to California ... that Friday or Saturday and we met in Cali. Some of the guys got stuck here because it was so long -- I think Mr. Ross got a plane together and took whoever was left to California."
Joseph: "[When we came] back and going out and helping out and just seeing how long the recovery would be for some people and what it would take to get back for some people ... just the very small things that we take daily for granted that some people were without and were in dire need of. And I think the city did a great job of responding. Everybody put in a helping hand around the city."
How did the hurricane impact preparation and practice?
Crennel: "You still have to prepare as best you can, and I think, basically, it affects you more mentally than anything else because your focus is not necessarily on football. Your focus is on your family and what they're going through and what's happening."
Bullis: "We're trying to lock in planes, hotels, equipment trucks, buses, police escorts. When we don't know where we're going, it's tough to lock in a hotel or a plane. We're looking for 150 guest rooms, a ton of meeting space, a ton of food and beverage. To find something out a couple of days before and try to find a hotel that has that many rooms with all the meeting space available is very difficult. They were talking a lot of potential places like California, New Orleans, West Virginia. I'm not calling one of those places -- I'm talking to all of those places -- 15-20 different properties to have different options."
Joseph: "You have to stay focused. We're all professionals, and that's part of it. No different than working any other job and anything catastrophic happens like that. But I think we got a lot of support systems around here, a lot of resources that we were able to use."
Gase: "We practiced the whole week getting ready for that first game, then all of a sudden it was bye week. So it wasn't really a bye week. I didn't feel like it messed me up, but we weren't winning and we needed a chance to regroup. We never had a chance to regroup."
Rootes: "[For the season opener] ... we said, 'This is our time to celebrate the heroic efforts and the courage of our first responders. ... Here's our chance to tell all of them 'thank you' as a community.' Those were messages that were delivered loud and clear. I had goose bumps on game day. ... We had a chance to lift Houston's spirits and put Houston on our shoulders. While football's a game ... it's a place where community lives. And Houston came together."
James: "Going the whole season 16 weeks straight, traveling from California to New York to London without having a break. That was the biggest thing. It was a lot going on."
What lessons were learned after losing your QB?
Sean Ryan, Houston QB coach: "I think just the fact that the group of guys are resilient. They keep fighting. And I think that shows up week to week. It still shows up. ... everybody just put their head down and kept moving forward."
Gase: "The biggest thing was making sure that we were developing guys. Matt [Moore] was the right guy for us at the time as the backup to Ryan [Tannehill]. I was just concerned if [Moore] could make it through the whole season. ... That's why [when] we got into this offseason Brock [Osweiler's] name got brought up. David [Fales] was a restricted free agent and I wanted him back. We felt like we were developing guys and having guys ready for the season, and not having somebody brand-new come in starting from scratch. We went through that [in 2017]. As much as Jay [Cutler] knew the offense, it was a completely different feel for the [other players]. People s--- on the offseason, but it matters."
Joseph: "It's tough. You see what your team is made of, because any time you have your quarterback and you lose a guy like that ... he's your leader."
Covington: "Obviously, it was a big loss losing Deshaun, but at the same time, you have to step up all together and just realize that in order to win games, in order to continue to fight, you have to do it as one solid unit. [Next man up] is kind of a heartless thing to say, but you have to be frank, because that's the league that we live in. That's the sport that we play."
What lessons were learned following the hurricane?
Bullis: "We spent a lot of time worrying about the storm. With a hurricane you really don't know until 24 hours before if it's going to get you. Talking with [Gase], going forward we want to get out of there early -- like the Monday of that week -- instead of waiting. Get out there all together. Get set up somewhere else and focus on the next football game ahead of you. Take the unknown out of it and get out of there, whether it's going to hit or not."
Rootes: "I was inspired by the reaction of our whole organization. I was very pleased with the way they responded both in their giving back to the community and their ability to handle the adversity and keep pushing forward and stay as a tight-knit group. That's really tough at the beginning of your season to go through something that disruptive. And then all the folks that work in this building ... Some of them were impacted by the hurricane directly. Some of them weren't. But all of them, their first thought was: Houston's taken a blow. What are we going to do about it? And that speaks to the quality of the people who are in this building and this locker room, and it speaks to the culture that we've established."