Shorts emerges as late-game playmaker for Jaguars
Cecil Shorts' cell phone was still buzzing Monday.
Less than 24 hours after his 80-yard touchdown reception lifted the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 22-17 win at Indianapolis, Shorts was still getting texts from friends, family members and unknown numbers.
''I have no idea who they are, but love is love,'' Shorts said.
Shorts has been the team's biggest surprise this season. The second-year pro has five catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns, both in the closing minute of games.
He hauled in a 39-yarder from Blaine Gabbert with 20 seconds left in the season opener at Minnesota, putting the Jaguars ahead 23-20. Specials teams and defense turned that potential game-winner into a footnote as the Jaguars lost 26-23 in overtime.
This time, Shorts was able to really celebrate.
He turned a skinny post into an improbable victory against the Colts, outrunning several defenders before diving into the end zone.
''Eighty yards is a long way to go, especially when guys are really close,'' Shorts said. ''It did seem long. I felt slow out there.''
The Jaguars (1-2), who host Cincinnati (2-1) on Sunday, have been waiting for Shorts to emerge.
A fourth-round draft pick from Division III powerhouse Mount Union in 2011, Shorts was expected to provide an immediate upgrade to Jacksonville's passing attack last season.
Instead, he missed time early in the season because of a hamstring injury and finished with just two receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown. The NFL lockout could have been partly to blame. But his position coach also was fired in November, essentially made one of the scapegoats for Shorts' struggles in the league's worst offense.
''Last year was rough,'' said Shorts, a high school quarterback who is admittedly still learning the receiver position. ''It would have been rough for anybody. I tried my best to keep my head up, but it was tough. I'm not really even worried about that no more. I'm past that. I'm over that. I'm just looking forward to this season, to keep proving myself and quiet all the doubters.''
Shorts might be quieting critics, but the Jaguars still have plenty of work to do in that department.
After all, one play did little to mask the team's offensive problems.
Although Gabbert's throw to Shorts was perfect, he had just 75 yards passing before that. He ended the day completing 10 of 21 passes for 155 yards. He hasn't thrown an interception this season, but he also hasn't shown the kind of consistency the Jaguars expect from that all-important position.
''He missed some throws (Sunday) and he made some great throws,'' coach Mike Mularkey said. ''Consistency is definitely a must from everybody, but I think just standing in there and making that last throw for the touchdown says a lot about the guy. We need him consistently for the entire game, and I think he's still young at this position.''
Gabbert has completed 50.6 percent of his passes for 468 yards, with four touchdowns and no picks.
His numbers, as well as the team's offensive production, have been hurt by dropped passes.
Rookie Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick in April's draft, has just four catches for 31 yards despite being targeted 15 times through three games.
''I think he's pressing a little bit,'' Mularkey said. ''He's getting a little frustrated that he'd like to be more productive. ... He's got to stay patient. I said that to him (Sunday), `Be patient. They're coming. The ball is coming.' We'll do a better job of trying to get it to him more if we can. But when we do, he's got to make those catches.''
The Jaguars relied heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran 28 times for 177 yards and a touchdown against the Colts.
Jacksonville went with a run-oriented game plan because of concerns about the offensive line. The Jaguars played without right tackle Cam Bradfield (ankle) and left guard Eben Britton (ankle) for the second consecutive week. Both are expected to practice in a limited role Wednesday.
With rookie guard Mike Brewster making his first career start and right tackle Guy Whimper lining up against Pro Bowl end Robert Mathis, the Jaguars played about as conservatively as possible.
''We just did not want him to wreck the game,'' Mularkey said. ''Until we get up to speed with all our guys back in there, we're trying to do the best we can to put them in a position to be successful.''
Right now, that might mean getting the ball to Shorts late in games.
''The catch is whatever, but celebrating the win is the most important thing,'' Shorts said.