INDIANAPOLIS — Deon Cain was playing for two Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
His closest friend on the team — fellow 2018 draft pick Reece Fountain — was lost for the season Thursday when he suffered a dislocated and fractured ankle during a joint practice with the Cleveland Browns.
Cain has battled his own freak injury — a torn ACL that cost him his rookie season — and was determined to honor his fellow second-year wide receiver against the Browns.
Though the Indianapolis Colts fell short 21-18 on the scoreboard, Cain had a breakout performance with seven catches for 80 yards on nine targets.
“The first person that hit my phone was (Fountain) when we came back (to the locker room) at halftime,” Cain said. “That’s my brother, man. I was out there really trying to play for myself and for him, too. ’Cause I already know we both would’ve been out there making plays. So, at the end of the day, I know my boy. He was watching us and wishing us the best.”
Cleveland jumped to a 21-7 lead behind third-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert and fourth-stringer David Blough before Chad Kelly led another fourth-quarter rally for the Colts (0-2).
Kelly finished 12-of-17 for 115 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ross Travis — also coming back from a season-ending knee injury. He drove Indianapolis to the 9-yard line with 35 seconds remaining, but his pass on fourth-and-1 was knocked down at the line of scrimmage to end the game.
Gilbert was 13-of-19 for 151 yards with touchdown passes to Jaelen Strong and D’Ernest Johnson in the first half. Blough, a former Purdue star, finished 7-of-12 for 74 yards and a 4-yard scoring strike to Derrick Willies.
But Cain was the story of the day for the home team.
His star turn included a 38-yard catch and run early in the third quarter that showed the breakaway speed for which he was known at Clemson.
Well, nearly, at least.
“It felt good, man, ’cause I’ve been trying to get a long run,” Cain said. “But (safety J.T. Hassell) kind of caught me, like, real quick after I caught the ball. I didn’t really get into my sprinter’s stance. But it what it is. Now, I just want to keep building off of that. It is great just to have that kind of reception.”
It was the latest step for the wideout who has steadily regained confidence in his knee since the preseason opener at Buffalo.
Cain finished that game with two catches for 15 yards then had his best week of practice at Westfield’s Grand Park.
“I think what he’s been doing in practice showed up a little bit,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “He’s making plays. He’s kind of picking up where he left off from last year. So very encouraged. When you come back from an injury like that, every game you get in, every catch just builds confidence.”
Cain was a training camp phenom a year ago before injuring his knee in the first preseason game at Seattle.
He said during the spring he needed to take his big plays in practice onto the game field before he’d really feel he was accomplishing anything.
Saturday was a big step in the right direction.
“Practice makes perfect,” Cain said. “If I’m making plays in practice, I definitely gotta make ’em in the game. That’s just gonna keep building my confidence as I keep going into these games and making plays. It’s gonna keep getting better.”
Jacoby Brissett’s final drive was his best of the preseason by far. The backup quarterback directed a 10-play, 85-yard march that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Ebron.
Everything about the final play was good. The offensive line provided a nice pocket and plenty of time. Brissett threw the ball over the defender and a in a place only Ebron could get to it. And Ebron caught the ball with his fingertips to score in his first appearance of the exhibition season.
But the drive wouldn’t have made it that far without a big fourth-down connection between the same two men.
On fourth-and-3 from Cleveland’s 42-yard line, Brissett side-stepped a free runner in the backfield, moved up in the pocket and rifled a 16-yard completion to Ebron.
“I told Eric last night that I was throwing him the ball if we got that look, and we got that look,” Brissett said. “I mean, I had to step up. But I made sure that I was still throwing to Eric.”
It was a good day for Brissett overall. He finished 8-of-10 for 100 yards and the TD in a little more than one quarter of action.
It was not a good first half for the Colts’ rookie cornerbacks.
Rock Ya-Sin was hit with a 25-yard pass interference penalty to help set up the Browns’ first touchdown, and Marvell Tell was beaten for a 32-yard completion to set up Cleveland’s second score.
Tell also picked up a flag on the Brown’s final touchdown drive in the second half, but Indianapolis challenged the call. It appeared Cleveland wide receiver D.J. Montgomery wrapped his arm around Tell’s helmet while both players were going for the ball, but the penalty was upheld upon review.
Indianapolis was flagged 16 times for 164 yards overall.
“We understand it’s preseason, and the officials are going to point of emphasis some things,” Reich said. “So we gotta use it as a learning opportunity. We don’t complain about that stuff. We need to figure it out.”
Running back Johnathan Williams had three carries for 15 yards before leaving the game with a chest injury in the second quarter. Offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp also left with an eye injury during the final period.
Quarterback Andrew Luck was shown on NFL Network going through drills that included the side-to-side motions general manager Chris Ballard said he needed to improve on as he recovers from calf and ankle injuries.
But Reich had no update on Luck’s practice availability for the coming week.
“He had a workout today out there,” Reich said. “It was a good workout, but really no further update other than he had a good workout today, and we’ll evaluate it in the next couple days.”