INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For all the yellow flags that littered the Lucas Oil Stadium turf Saturday, another probably was warranted: excessive celebration.
The culprits: Ross Travis, teammates, family and friends. And no one would have blamed them.
Less than a year removed from suffering a season-ending ACL injury in the final minutes of the preseason finale at Cincinnati, Travis was the center of a storm of euphoria in the end zone.
His only reception in the Indianapolis Colts’ 21-18 loss to Cleveland was a 24-yard touchdown delivered by Chad Kelly. Travis beat safety Tigie Sankoh, secured the pass inside the Bengals’ 5-yard line, absorbed an illegal hit by safety Sheldrick Redwine and powered over the goal line.
Wideout Krishawn Hogan arrived to spark the post-catch celebration in the end zone. Then offensive lineman Joe Haeg. Then Kelly and the rest of the offensive unit.
On the sideline, second-year wideout Deon Cain turned from spectator – he was talking with a reporter on the bench at the time – to unabashed cheerleader when he saw Travis’ TD on the Jumbotron. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s preseason opener and spent the offseason rehabbing, side-by-side, with Travis.
“If you would have actually seen me for how I got off that bench,’’ Cain told reporters after the game. “It was also this sigh of relief because my boy put in a lot of work. I definitely was (emotional).’’
Join the crowd. Travis’ family and friends were in the stands and, naturally, ultra-supportive.
“I know my mom, dad and sister are here,’’ he said, “so I’m sure my mom’s a little emotional. Even I was a little emotional on the sideline just because of how last year went. There’s a select few people that know what you’ve got to go through to get back on that field and all the time you put in.
“But ultimately, man, I’m just happy to celebrate with everybody. I told all the trainers, I told everybody I was working with me, ‘Man, this was all of us.’ You know what I’m saying? They were a big part of it.’’
Travis was claimed off waivers from Kansas City in November 2017 and appeared in four games with two receptions for 33 yards. Even with such a small sample size, the Colts realized they had something special: a 6-6, 248-pound match-up problem for defenses.
He was in the midst of a solid preseason last summer – six catches for 77 yards – only to see his pursuit of a spot on the 53-man roster end in Cincinnati when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Travis persevered and was ready for the start of camp. He opened practice with a bulky brace on his right knee, but soon discarded it. Then, he had to deal with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the preseason opener at Buffalo.
Against the Bills, it was Cain who had to overcome that final hurdle of actually testing his surgically-repaired knee in game conditions. He was the Colts’ best wideout against the Browns with seven receptions on nine targets for 80 yards.
The knee, Cain insisted, has “been in the rearview mirror since the first game. This is another confidence builder for me. Just want to keep building after this, look at the tape and see how I can better myself.’’
Saturday, it was Travis’ turn.
“That’s the last part of an injury . . . just getting out on the field and feeling yourself making these cuts and visualizing the plays and all that stuff, man,’’ he said. “Just being on your feet and it’s just all about gaining confidence out there in your leg again.’’
The mental hurdle usually is the final, and most difficult, phase.
“Yeah, it’s 90 percent (mental) now because we wouldn’t put them back on the field physically if we didn’t think they were ready,’’ Frank Reich said after the game. “It is mental and that’s a big step.
“And the quickest way to get over that step is to make plays, and so good for both of those guys that they had a chance to make a play.’’
Sunday, Reich mentioned the overall satisfaction resulting from comebacks of Cain and Travis.
“Really satisfying (as) you could imagine for them,’’ he said. “I know everybody works hard, but these guys worked really hard. You just feel good for them and good for us as a team that they are seeing that reward to that hard work.’’
Every play Cain and Travis make bolsters their chance at securing a roster spot. Each is in highly-competitive situations.
Cain is battling for a roster spot in a room that includes T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, rookie Parris Campbell and Krishawn Hogan. Another second-year wideout, Reece Fountain, suffered a season-ending ankle injury on Thursday.
Travis, meanwhile, could be part of what is being heralded as one of the NFL’s best tight end rooms. It includes Pro Bowlers Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, along with Mo Alie-Cox and rookie Hale Hentges.
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