CLEVELAND — This was the way Cecil Shorts always imagined it would happen: game on the line, ball in the air, his chance to the hero.
The Jacksonville receiver replayed it in his mind countless times.
On Sunday, all of it came true. And, it happened in the best place possible — his hometown.
A Cleveland kid who grew up cheering for the Browns, Mount Union product Shorts caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne with 40 seconds left, rallying the rejuvenated Jaguars to a 32-28 win on Sunday.
On third-and-9, Henne lofted a perfect pass to the left corner for Shorts, who had beaten Browns star cornerback Joe Haden. Shorts got both feet down in the end zone before tumbling out of bounds and celebrating with his teammates.
It was an unforgettable moment for Shorts, who earlier this week said “I’m all Cleveland” and talked about the excitement of returning to play in front of family and friends.
“For that play to happen in this game, in that situation, and the hometown,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”
After the Jaguars (3-9) gave up Brandon Weeden’s 95-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon and fell behind 28-25, Henne drove them 80 yards in nine plays for the winning TD as Jacksonville continued its stunning turnaround after losing its first eight games, all by at least 10 points.
The Jaguars are 3-1 since their bye with all three victories on the road.
“We’re building confidence and we’re getting better each and every day,” Henne said. “And these wins and on the road, playing in a hostile environment, the guys are starting to feel it a little bit.”
For the Browns (4-8), their sixth loss in seven games stung deeply.
Three weeks ago, there was actually playoff talk in Cleveland. There’s none now.
“I can’t stand losing,” said Haden, who fought back tears during a sometimes vulgar postgame tirade. “It hurts. I go out there and put my heart out there every time. And we end up coming up short. It was my fault on the touchdown. You’re going to come with the same questions every week and we’re going to give you the same answers — ‘We’re going to get better next week.’
“Until we do it then there’s nothing else to talk about. Straight up.”
Before Shorts’ catch, it appeared as if Weeden would shake off a mixed performance during which he threw three touchdown passes, two interceptions just before halftime, fumbled, and had to kick a high snap out of the end zone for a safety.
Weeden connected with Gordon on the stunning 95-yarder with 3:55 left only to have Cleveland’s defense allow Henne to drive the length of the field for the go-ahead TD. Jacksonville stopped Cleveland’s final chance by batting down a desperation pass by Weeden into the end zone.
Josh Scobee kicked three field goals for the Jaguars.
Gordon returned from a head injury and finished with 10 catches for a team record 261 yards. He’s the first player in NFL history to have consecutive 200-yard games. He had 237 in a loss last week against Pittsburgh, and Gordon has 1,249 yards this season despite missing two games with a drug suspension.
Down 21-20 and their offense doing nothing, the Jaguars took the lead when Browns center Alex Mack snapped the ball over Weeden’s head into the end zone and the QB alertly booted it out of bounds.
“100 percent my fault,” Mack said.
Weeden was only back in the starting lineup because Jason Campbell has a concussion. But after finishing 24 of 40 for 370 yards, he was diagnosed with a concussion. Because of the head injury, Weeden was kept from speaking with reporters and if he and Campbell can’t play next week, Alex Tanney, signed off Dallas’ practice squad, will start at New England.
Henne went 24 of 40 for 195 yards and two TDs and Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 77 yards and threw an 8-yard TD pass to Marcedes Lewis.
Before catching his game-winner, Shorts, who had six catches for 64 yards, dropped a few throws. However, Henne told him to be ready and the former Division III star came through.
“Chad came to me, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to you,’” Shorts said. “When the game’s on the line, you want the ball. And that’s just the bottom line.”
NOTES: Gordon needs 41 yards to set the Browns record (1,289 by Braylon Edwards, 2007) for yards receiving in a season. … Jaguars S Johnathan Cyprien recorded his first career interception in the second quarter. … Despite the Jaguars having the league’s lowest-ranked run defense, the Browns gained only 97 yards rushing. … Jaguars DT Sen’Derrick Marks had three tackles, a sack, defended a pass, forced a fumble and recovered another. … The Browns lost LBs Eric Martin (head) and Brandon Magee (chest) to injuries.