For Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, Sunday’s homecoming against the Cleveland Browns proved to be a “dream come true.”
Despite early drops, Shorts caught eight passes, including one for a 20-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left to give the Jaguars a 32-28, come-from-behind victory at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I can’t put it into words; it was a dream come true,” the product of Cleveland Collinwood High School and the University of Mount Union said after returning home for the first time as a pro.
To Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, Shorts’ game-winning play was pretty special, too.
“It was awesome,” Bradley said after his team, which began the season 0-8, won its second straight game and third in the last four to improve to 3-9.
For a brief time near the end of the game, though, it appeared as if the “dream come true” had been reserved for the Browns after they took a 28-25 lead on
Following a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, the Jaguars got off to a slow start. Quarterback Chad Henne misfired on two straight passing attempts, but an offside penalty on linebacker
That’s when the Jaguars’ first big play of the day happened, as Henne lofted a pass up the left sideline that wide receiver Ace Sanders caught in stride for a 25-yard gain to the 50. He was Jacksonville’s leading receiver in the game with eight catches for 67 yards.
Shorts caught a 16-yarder on the next play, moving the ball to the 34. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for four yards and a first down to the 21 on third and one.
Sanders was then the target on two straight passes, catching a one-yarder before Henne threw incomplete. On third and nine from the 20 with only 45 seconds left, it appeared as if the the Jaguars would be content to kick a field goal to tie the game at 25-25 and then take their chances in overtime. As such, it was expected they would run the ball into the middle of the field to set up Josh Scobey for a straight shot on about a 37-yard attempt.
But that was not the plan at all. In fact, it was far from it.
“All season long, I’ve tried to impress upon the team that we need to be bold,” Bradley said.
And bold the Jaguars were indeed, eschewing any thoughts of a field goal and instead going for a touchdown.
Their conduit to getting that done was Shorts, who had dropped a couple of big passes earlier in the game.
“It wasn’t my best day,” he said of his performance to that point.
But the Jaguars didn’t lose confidence in him (“Henne said to me, ‘I’m coming back to you,’” Shorts recalled.) and he didn’t lose confidence in myself.
“I was frustrated, and became more focused,” Shorts said. “I think I was just overhyped on those drops, trying to run before I caught the ball. But as a receiver, you want the ball. When the game’s on the line, you want the ball.”
And after those drops, and knowing his friends, family and former high school and college teammates were in the stands, Shorts really wanted the ball this time.
The Jaguars decided to test Cleveland’s top cornerback,
“Joe’s a great player who likes to jump routes,” Shorts said.
The Jaguars had been running a lot of slants throughout the game, and Shorts faked to the inside to make it appear as if another one was on the way. Then he put on a double move and straightened his route back up, getting a couple of steps on Haden as he ran toward the back left corner of the end zone. Henne delivered the ball perfectly, and Shorts made sure to catch it.
It was a great moment for Shorts – he was second on the team with six catches for 64 yards overall -- and a bad moment for the Browns and the people back home in Cleveland, Alliance and Northeast Ohio.
“I just stared into the crowd,” Shorts said. “I won’t say what I said to the fans. I was just enjoying the moment with my teammates.”
And when he got back to the bench, Shorts enjoyed it with his relieved coach.
“We missed a lot of plays today – we weren’t crisp -- but we made a lot of plays down the stretch,” Bradley said. “I’m really pleased with the poise we showed from start to finish. That’s the one thing that didn’t waver all day. Our tenacity and toughness were great.”