Dezmon Patmon felt like he was backpedaling for about 10 yards as Sam Ehlinger's deep ball soared through the air at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
Patmon caught the pass as he fell over about four yards shy of the end zone. But the good news: He was so wide open that Lions safety Kerby Joseph wasn't close enough to him to tackle him. So Patmon did a reverse somersault and stretched the ball across the goal line.
The result was a 50-yard touchdown, a play that punctuated Patmon's sparkling five-catch, 103-yard afternoon against the Lions.
"He just seemed confident, playing with some confidence with the ball in his hands and running good routes, making a play, instinctive plays," head coach Frank Reich said. "Even on the long touchdown, to reach out, that instinct to reach out, that was a good sign right there as well."
But Patmon wasn't the only Colts wide receiver competing for a roster spot who made plays on Saturday. Second-year wideout Mike Strachan, who was removed from the PUP list on Monday, caught three passes for 45 yards – including a 25-yard touchdown where he used his speed and size to beat Lions cornerback Mark Gilbert in the end zone.
Strachan exploded onto the practice field at Grand Park this week and was a frequent recipient of throws from quarterback Nick Foles during joint practices with the Lions. He knew he had to make a quick impact after missing the first two and a half weeks of training camp following an offseason procedure to repair a torn meniscus; that impact carried over from Westfield to downtown Indianapolis.
"It's seemed like he's gone from zero to 60 in a second," Reich said. "There was a couple of weeks back I was thinking, I'm not even sure he's going to be ready to practice until the season opener. Then, all of a sudden, he made a speedy recovery and next thing you know he's out there catching a big-time touchdown in this game today. Credit to Mike and credit to our training staff."
The plays made by Patmon and Strachan on Saturday will continue to push the team's wide receiver competition forward. Especially because those plays came in a game setting.
"Whenever you execute in a game it just ups the confidence like crazy," quarterback Nick Foles said. "It's one thing to do it in practice, but to do it when the lights are on — preseason, regular season, whatever it is — it's always a good feeling because it's just a different level of competition when you're out there actually playing in a game as opposed to practice. So seeing our receivers do a good job out there, make some big plays, Dez and Mike particularly, I thought they had a great afternoon."
Patmon explained his confidence after the game, too.
"I feel like as long as I am out there making plays, that gives faith and promise in the coaching staff that they can keep throwing me the ball, and I can go out there and continue to make plays," Patmon said. "So, it felt great."
Patmon, Strachan and the rest of the Colts' wide receivers will return to Grand Park for the final week of training camp – a walkthrough on Monday, then practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then the Colts will wrap up the preseason with a night game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Aug. 27 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And three days later, it'll be decision time on 56th Street: The Colts will trim their roster to 53 players ahead of the season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 11.
So as the Colts' wide receiver competition hits crunch time, it does so with a couple of guys involved having shown out in Saturday's preseason game.
"It's no time to waste," Strachan said, "The season is right around the corner."
The Colts take on the Detroit Lions in the first home game of the preseason at Lucas Oil Stadium.