Thanks to a touchdown reception in the final minute by Cleveland native Cecil Shorts III, the Jacksonville Jaguars have back-to-back victories for the first time since Weeks 13-14 in 2010.
Shorts, who had a pair of drops in an unremarkable first three quarters for him, hauled in a 20-yard pass from Chad Henne with 40 seconds remaining Sunday as the Jaguars doused whatever faint playoff hopes existed for the Browns.
The Jaguars survived a remarkable performance by Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who became the first player in NFL history with successive games of more than 200 yards in receptions. Gordon had given the Browns a 28-25 lead with 3:55 remaining after the Jaguars had gone ahead with the help of a safety on a snap which sailed over the head of much-maligned quarterback Brandon Weeden into the end zone.
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Here are five observations from the 32-28 victory which improved the Jaguars’ record to 3-9:
1. Was Justin Blackmon watching the game and noticing what Gordon did?
Both wide receivers have had more than their share of off-the-field issues. But while the Jaguars are forced to make do without Blackmon for the rest of the season because of yet another suspension, Gordon is turning out to be worth the aggravation and then some.
Even a hit in the third quarter by safety Winston Guy which knocked off Gordon’s helmet and sent him to the locker room couldn’t slow him down. He finished with 10 catches for 261 yards and was almost single-handedly responsible for Weeden’s 370-yard passing day.
Weeden also had two interceptions and a fumble in the final 2:35 of the first half as the Jaguars went from trailing 14-7 to leading 20-14.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew, passing threat.
Of the 12,768 career all-purpose yards he accounted for going into the game, none were through the air. His only passing attempt came against the Browns in 2010 and resulted in an interception.
But what began as a toss sweep to him turned into an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis which tied the score at 14. It was the first TD of the season for Lewis and the fifth by the Jaguars in their last seven red zone opportunities, a drastic turnaround from the inefficiency they showed in that category during an 0-8 start.
Jones-Drew had an 18-yard gain on the Jaguars’ first scoring drive and also ran for 14 yards on their next possession against a defense which has still not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.
3. The three rookies in the Jaguars’ secondary had a decidedly mixed day.
Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, the only member of the defense to have played every snap, finally came up with his first interception. That was followed not long thereafter by a pickoff by cornerback Dwayne Gratz. Both plays gave the offense a short field with which to work and resulted in a touchdown and a field goal.
But Gratz was burned for a 42-yard reception by Gordon on the Browns’ first play of the game. And free safety Josh Evans left in the first quarter with a shoulder stinger and did not return. Guy took his place and got burned on Gordon’s 95-yard touchdown by gambling for an interception. Cyprien and Gratz pursued Gordon after Guy’s whiff but could not chase him down.
4. Explosive plays can make a world of difference.
The Jaguars offense had six plays of 10 or more yards in the first half to go with their defense’s three takeaways. But they had no first downs at all in the third quarter, and their only such play during the first 11 minutes of the fourth quarter was a 12-yard completion by Henne to running back Jordan Todman.
The Browns’ explosive plays weren’t limited to passes from Weeden to Gordon. Rookie Jordan Poyer returned Bryan Anger’s first punt 38 yards, the longest runback allowed by the Jaguars all season
5. Ace Sanders is becoming an ace in the hole.
While Shorts will garner the headlines, the rookie fourth-round pick out of South Carolina led the Jaguars in receiving with eight catches for 67 yards. His 25-yard reception was a huge factor on what proved to be the game-winning drive.
Sanders now has 36 catches for 371 yards, although he’s still looking for his first score.
Next up: vs. Houston. The Jaguars have a good chance of pulling off a season sweep of the series with a team which had Super Bowl aspirations back in September.