INDIANAPOLIS — Zach Pascal starred on the field Sunday for the Indianapolis Colts, but his impact began before game day.
The third-year wide receiver addressed teammates the day before and reiterated a “dog culture” message he had printed on T-shirts distributed in the locker room earlier this year.
“I passed those shirts out to the whole team for times like this,” Pascal said, after scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 5-yard reception with 1:47 remaining for a 27-20 Colts victory over the Houston Texans. “Three games left, coming down the home stretch of the regular season, it's easy for guys to start feeling lazy or feeling like, ‘Let me not do this extra work.’
“Just continue to let the guys know, keep your foot on the gas, continue to have that dog mentality. A dog mentality for me is, no matter what happens, no matter what adversity you face, come out on top. Nobody cares about your excuses. … Just go ahead and take care of your business, no matter what.”
Pascal, 26, mentioned inspiring punter Rigoberto Sanchez, who was back on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday just 19 days after having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Sanchez, who played two days before the surgery, was determined to return as quickly as possible.
As a 26-year-old wide receiver who entered the NFL as an undrafted unknown, Pascal has proven his value to the Colts. Because wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has an extensive history of humbling Houston, the Colts anticipated extra coverage on him, which meant more opportunities for Pascal.
“It’s funny, it was just his week,” head coach Frank Reich said. “He was the captain of the week, it was his birthday, he spoke to the team last night, then he comes out and he’s MVP … for the team for the day.”
Pascal led the Colts in every major receiving category as he caught five-of-six targets for 79 yards and two touchdowns. His yardage set a season-high and his receptions tied a 2020 best.
“We love Zach,” Reich said. “He epitomizes what we’re all about, the toughness, the dependability, great teammate, and just did an outstanding job today and really all year, and especially had a great week this week.”
It was the second multi-TD game of Pascal’s career, the other also coming at home against the Texans last season.
All five of Pascal’s snags resulted in either a first down or TD, including catches of 24 and 26 yards. Colts quarterback Philip Rivers had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when throwing Pascal’s way, according to Pro Football Focus.
Pascal received a PFF grade of 87.7, which ranked third among wide receivers and nearly landed him a spot on the “NFL Week 15 Team of the Week.”
Pascal’s most important play came at a critical time. The Colts and Texans traded field goals in the second half before the Texans tied the game with a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. A 12-play drive that used 6 minutes, 6 seconds of clock culminated in Rivers throwing a short pass in the flat to Pascal, who did the rest to get past a defender a reach for the pylon.
“On that last play, I came in motion – I was supposed to run an out but, because of the penetration by the defensive end, I had to bubble back and run like a swing, and he (Rivers) threw it to me,” Pascal said. “He threw it to me, and I knew it was just going to be one-on-one for the end zone, and I knew that we needed a touchdown, so (I) just tried to make a play.”
Not only was he a playmaker with the ball, he laid it on the line for his teammates without it as PFF gave Pascal the fourth-best, pass-blocking grade among receivers (66.2).
“Zach is really respected because of his toughness,” Reich said. “Really what he was talking about was toughness, that kind of mentality. … I think it hit the team just right.”
It’s how Pascal is wired.
“For me, I feel like it’s the struggle,” he said. “Not even a struggle, but the journey that I had to get to where I’m at today. I don’t want to take plays for granted or put myself in a position where I can eventually get hurt or lose my spot, so every play I’m just going hard and just continue to try to be aggressive and play to how I play.
“I used to play defense in high school. I guess that’s where my aggressiveness came from with all the blocking and stuff, but just continuing to play my game and just do what I’m asked.”
Looking for a podcast? Check out the Bleav in Colts Podcast on the Bleav Podcast Network.