FRANKFURT, Germany – Josh Downs, while rehabbing a knee injury, didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday in Indianapolis, then flew across the Atlantic Ocean only to land in Germany and not practice again on Friday. But the Colts did not rule out their rookie wide receiver after Friday's practice at PSD Bank Arena in Frankfurt, leaving the door open for Downs to give things a go Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The Colts were intentional about Downs' workload on Sunday, limiting him by playing him only on third or fourth down and on a two-minute drive at the end of the first half. Downs played 13 snaps, but that didn't stop him from making one of the Colts' biggest plays in their Week 10 win over the Patriots.
Facing a third-and-five at their own 10-yard line with just under three minutes to go – and holding on to a four-point lead – quarterback Gardner Minshew scampered around the pocket, trying to buy time for someone to get open. Downs flashed open down the near sideline and Minshew lofted a throw his direction. Downs, fully-extended, dove for the ball and caught it, gaining 28 yards, getting the Colts a fresh set of downs and forcing Bill Belichick to start using his timeouts.
"I was like, I'm going to get this regardless," Downs said. "(Minshew) put it where only I could get it."
The catch in itself will live on Downs' highlight reel as long as he plays football. But those who saw what Downs went through just to get on the field this week were just as impressed with the mental and physical toughness he showed over the last few days.
"To lay out and make that play, that's what preparation does," head coach Shane Steichen said. "You prepare the right way and you go out and make those plays on Sunday."
Downs' rookie season has been fantastic to date – he now has 43 catches for 523 yards – but dealing with this knee injury was a challenge he had to overcome. His focus leading up to Sunday had to be on both getting treatment so he could have a chance to play, and then being locked in to the game plan without practicing so in case he did play, he could play well.
"I was interested to see how he would make plays on the back half of this stretch," running back Jonathan Taylor said. "Because he's been making plays consistently, and when he's in the game, you can count on josh to make plays."
Downs' other catch on Sunday, by the way, converted a fourth down near midfield late in the second quarter.
"Dude can play ball," Minshew said. "He has a knack for getting open and catching the ball."
When Downs arrived at Frankfurt Stadium on Sunday, he had a message for wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne. And it's a message on which he delivered when the Colts needed it most.
"When I was out there, I told Reggie I got him," Downs said. "So whenever I was out there on third down or fourth down, I'm gonna make you a play."