CLEVELAND - When the game's on the line, Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts wants the ball.
The hometown kid got it and scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minute Sunday to propel the Jaguars to a 32-28 victory over the Browns.
Shorts beat Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who poured his heart out after the game.
Tears welled up in Haden's eyes as he delivered an impassioned, sometimes expletive-laden, message to media members at his locker. To get the full impact, you need to read it straight through, in its entirety:
"We f***in' can't stand losing. It hurts. To go out there, put my f***in' heart out there every time, every time. And we end up coming up short. It was my fault right there on the touchdown. He ran a good route, good play, good offense, you know what I'm sayin'? Don't take nothing from our D. We're out there every time grinding, fighting, and this s*** hurts, every time we start losing. You know what I'm sayin'? We're tired of it. And there's nothing we can say. You're gonna come with the same questions every week and I'm gonna give you the same answers -- ‘We gonna get better next week. We gonna get better next week.' Until we do it, then there's nothing else to talk about -- straight up. Good? Alright."
On the other end of the spectrum, down the field-level cavern of FirstEnergy Stadium was an ecstatic Cecil Shorts, the third-year wide receiver who attended Collinwood High on Cleveland's east side then Mount Union, smiling at the podium in the visitors' media room.
Shorts explained the 20-yard touchdown, one where he faked a slant then did a side step out, expecting Haden to jump the route, which was just what happened.
"Anytime we're in two-by-two in our previous games, we ran a lot of slants, a lot of unders, lot of in-cutting routes," Shorts said. "So, we expected him to jump it and he jumped the mess out of that."
Henne put it right on Shorts who held onto the ball for dear life as he got his two feet down in the west end zone. Shorts had been hindered by drops in other moments of the game but didn't let it get to him.
"Chad Henne came to me like ‘Hey, I'm coming back to you. You're a playmaker and I'm coming back to you,'" Shorts said. "Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Will Blackmon, Marcedes Lewis, a bunch of the guys came up to me like, ‘We're coming back to you, don't worry. Don't worry about it, just keep fighting."
To Haden's dismay, Shorts got his chance to shine on the 3rd and 9 with 40 seconds left in the game. Down three and in field goal range, Jacksonville didn't play it safe and instead, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch took the shot at the win.
"Coach Jedd made a hell of a call. I'm happy he called that play. It was for me. He gave me the opportunity to make a play," Shorts said.
Haden was fooled.
"They were setting it up for the whole game. It was a really, really good route," he said.
Two weeks removed from what may have been his best game as a pro in Cincinnati, where he shut down Bengals' receiver AJ Green and notched his first career interception returned for a touchdown, Haden has had struggles.
He allowed Steelers' receiver Antonio Brown to put up 92 yards and a touchdown in the back-breaking week 12 divisional loss. He held Shorts in check most of the day but it is the one decisive play that will be remembered. That scrutiny goes along with being a top cornerback, which Haden knows.
He made note of that when he spoke after the loss to the Steelers a week ago.
"I'm playing against the best receiver on the other team every single week. Things are going to happen. As a corner, I know it's not always gonna go my way," Haden said.
A week later, the frustration boiled but Haden's teammates remain behind him.
"That's like my brother. For him to be down on himself after he played a game like he did and what he meant for this defense, it's kind of a terrible feeling," free safety Tashaun Gipson said. "I know that he would make that play 10 times out of 10 if it happened again."
Captain and defensive leader linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said he walked past and overheard the emotions in Haden's tone. While Haden took the blame, Jackson refused to put it on him.
"That's on the entire defense. That's not on one man," Jackson said about the winning score. "It would be a crime to put it on one man."
Up 28-25 after Josh Gordon's 95-yard touchdown scamper, the Browns defense succumbed to a Jaguars offense they held in check throughout the second half.
"We should have stopped that drive. It didn't start with Joe at all," strong safety TJ Ward said. "Joe didn't give up that drive. We did as a defense entirely."
The Jaguars drove it 75 yards down the field on nine plays, Shorts' touchdown grab the decisive blow.
Haden's nightmare with the game at
stake was Shorts' ecstasy.
"I can't really put it in words. It's a dream come true -- for that play to happen in this game in that situation in the hometown," Shorts said.