Commanders WR McLaurin plays key role in comeback victory

INDIANAPOLIS — As the ball floated to Terry McLaurin, there were 70 family members and friends in the stands who knew what would happen. They’d seen it before — in this stadium. There were 52 Washington Commanders teammates and a number of others on their sideline who also knew what would happen. They too had seen it before — in practice, in games and even the previous week.

So McLaurin did what he has done since he was a kid in Lucas Oil Stadium: He made the big catch that helped his team win the game.

McLaurin outjumped retreating corner Stephon Gilmore for a 33-yard catch, pirouetting and tucking the ball away as he fell just off the goal line with 26 seconds remaining, setting up a Taylor Heinicke sneak for a touchdown and a 17-16 comeback victory.

“Terry wasn’t going to be denied,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said.

It’s why Washington signed McLaurin to a three-year contract extension worth up to $68.2 million over the summer.

“He did those plays before he got paid,” Rivera said. “He’s making those plays now that he’s been paid. He’s still the same guy. The one thing I do like is he constantly tells me now, ‘I want the ball.’ That’s a big deal.”

Washington (4-4) won for the third consecutive game; it has won those contests by a combined eight points.

McLaurin, an Indianapolis native, once again played a key role. Last week versus the Green Bay Packers, he aggressively came back for the ball on a pivotal third-and-9 play for 12 yards with 2:13 left, allowing the Commanders to run off nearly another two minutes.

On Sunday, he caught six passes for 113 yards, but none was bigger than the last one. Heinicke bought time by sliding around the pocket then backpedaling before throwing to McLaurin, who raced behind Gilmore as his quarterback bought time.

“It was just like slow motion,” McLaurin said. “He saw me, I saw him and that ball was up in the air — and my eyes were on the ball the whole time.”

Or, as teammate and fellow wideout Curtis Samuel said, “He dunked on him. … We’ve seen this over and over and over again. Every time you give him a chance, he makes a play.”

But it capped an emotional day — and week — for McLaurin. He grew up a Colts fan, sitting with his dad in section 540 and watching his idol, former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, play. McLaurin even wore Harrison’s No. 88 jersey for consecutive Halloweens as a kid. Before Sunday’s game, Harrison asked to take a picture with McLaurin.

“I’m like, ‘Me?” McLaurin said.

There were those 70 family and friends, and McLaurin purchased several of the tickets for them.

“That was crazy,” McLaurin said of the pregame scene.

Afterward, he spent a good 10 minutes reveling with those folks outside the locker room, hugging family and regaling with boyhood friends who let it be known that the Colts could have drafted him. In rapid-fire fashion, they reminisced; they hugged; they boasted; they hugged some more; and they laughed.

There were tears by cousins and smiles by everyone and boasts of knowing this moment would happen. One childhood friend, Grant Prather, made his way down to the first row before the final drive and implored McLaurin to make the big play.

But in this stadium, that’s what McLaurin has done. He won two state titles with Cathedral High School while playing in Lucas Oil Stadium. As a junior, he scored on a 79-yard reception and a 66-yard punt return; both remain playoff records in the state’s 4A classification. As a senior, he caught a 41-yard touchdown pass. At Ohio State, he won two Big Ten titles playing on this turf.

It’s no wonder Commanders offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. tweeted “HIS CITY” after the game — including a picture of him hugging McLaurin from behind while pointing at the wideout with his left hand.

“That play was great, to be standing where I am, to see how far my journey has come, to see how much I’m growing and trying to be a leader for this team, it’s amazing,” McLaurin said. “That was a cool moment we’ll never forget.”

Washington selected McLaurin in the third round of the 2018 draft, anticipating he would become a special teams standout and a helpful receiver. He instantly turned into a big threat, with 125 receiving yards in his first game. He became one of the highest-paid receivers this past summer. He now has 33 catches for 558 yards this season.

McLaurin made the last catch on Sunday in part because he worked on learning how to make contested catches, something he felt he didn’t do well earlier in his career.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe I’m actually standing here,” said McLaurin, who received the game ball in the locker room. “To be trusted in those situations is extremely humbling.”

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