Taylor Heinicke, Terry McLaurin recreate their old chemistry in Commanders’ win

Heinicke, McLaurin find their chemistry again in Commanders win originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

LANDOVER, Md. — Through the first six games of the season, the usage of Washington Commanders’ star wide receiver Terry McLaurin was both curious and troublesome.

McLaurin, whom the team signed to a three-year, $71 million extension this offseason, averaged just six targets per game and topped the 100-yard mark just once entering Sunday’s contest. It’s no coincidence the club’s offense had struggled as a whole, too, averaging just 17 points per outing.

The Commanders had a new quarterback under center in Taylor Heinicke on Sunday with starter Carson Wentz out at least a month with a fractured finger. And after a slow start on offense, Heinicke relied on his top weapon throughout the second half — he and McLaurin provided a spark for Washington’s offense en route to a 23-21 upset victory over the Green Bay Packers.

“Taylor has a lot of energy in how he approaches this game of playing football,” McLaurin said postgame. “You can just tell he plays free-spirited. … He plays like it’s his last game every single time. That energy spreads throughout this team. You just want to be able to make that play to elevate him.”

The first half was a rough showing for the Commanders’ quarterback. Heinicke completed just 7-of-17 passes over the first 30 minutes. One of his incompletions was a pick-six for Green Bay. The quarterback admitted postgame that he had “some jitters” early on, as it was his first time playing in a real game since January. Heinicke did engineer a touchdown drive toward the end of the second quarter, though, and Washington entered the midgame break down just four.

Despite early struggles, no one on the Commanders’ sideline lost confidence. McLaurin said Heinicke “didn’t show any signs of being rattled” and was constantly encouraging the group on the sideline.

That same confidence showed on Washington’s first offensive drive of the third quarter. The Commanders put together four positive plays in a row to get into Green Bay territory when McLaurin found himself 1-on-1 with Packers star Jaire Alexander on the outside.

Heinicke didn’t hesitate. The 29-year-old took the snap, dropped back two steps and unleashed a beautiful moonball that landed in McLaurin’s hands for a 37-yard touchdown.

“I have a lot of respect for Jaire Alexander and what he’s [done] in this league. But I have confidence in myself, too,” McLaurin said postgame. “I’ll bet on myself as well. Taylor couldn’t have done a better job of putting that ball where it needed to be. He almost like walked it to me. It fell right out of the sky. I told him that was probably our best rep we’ve had since we’ve been together. You could tell that gave a jolt to our offense.”

The Heinicke-McLaurin connection was far from over.

Late in the fourth quarter, Washington took over the football up two with just over three minutes remaining with the goal of running out the clock. Conventional wisdom, especially with a backup quarterback in the game, was to play conservatively. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner did anything but that.

On second down, Heinicke found McLaurin — who made an incredible reaching catch — for a 14-yard first-down completion to extend the drive. Then three plays later, with Washington essentially having the chance to ice the game, Heinicke connected with McLaurin once again on a third down completion just before the two-minute warning.

Once Heinicke heard the play call from Turner, he only had one thought: get the ball to No. 17.

“Scott believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Heinicke said. “When I see Terry out there 1-on-1 — you pay that guy a lot of money, right? So let’s give him a chance. And he did a great job all game. He had two or three huge third-down conversions in the second half. And you can just tell, there’s a reason why we paid this guy. He’s a really good player.”

“When I heard the play call, I knew it was going to come to me,” McLaurin said. “That was a moment I was extremely happy for and confident because that’s what you want as a player. … The confidence I get from my teammates to be in those situations to make those plays is extremely humbling. I want those moments.”

After that first down, the Commanders were able to wind down the clock to just under 30 seconds before punting. Washington’s defense survived a last-gasp lateral fiasco from Green Bay and the Commanders were able to walk off the FedEx Field grass with their third victory of the season.

For Washington coach Ron Rivera, that final offensive drive showed exactly why Washington made such a big priority this offseason to keep McLaurin long-term.

“It really spoke to the confidence we have in Terry. That’s why we did what we did in terms of signing him,” Rivera said. “Those are the kind of moments Terry can make. We’ve got to be willing to take those shots.”

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McLaurin, who’s one of the humblest receivers in the NFL, emphasized throughout this postgame presser how blessed he feels to be Washington’s go-to guy when the team needs a play.

“For [Heinicke] and I to be able to connect on some big plays — for him to have the trust in me just to put the ball around me and make a play — that’s all I ever wanted as a receiver,” McLaurin said. “I’m very fortunate to be in a situation where all my teammates come to me on the sideline like ’17, we need one. You’re the guy to make the play.’ I just want to continue to earn that respect and make those plays.”

Besides McLaurin’s standout performance, the second-half turnaround from Heinicke was just the latest example of why he’s so beloved in the locker room. The quarterback never lost faith despite an ugly first half and that belief carried over to the rest of his teammates.

“I know what type of competitor he is. That guy is a fighter,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “I love playing with him and playing for him. No matter what I’ve got his back. That guy steps up at the times he needs to.”

Rivera felt a similar way, too.

“It’s the mentality he has. It’s that underdog mentality,” the head coach said. “He has a tremendous amount of faith in what he can do.”

Throughout this past week leading up to Sunday’s game, several players in the Commanders’ locker room were open about their confidence in Heinicke. Sunday’s performance proved why once again. 

“He’s got that dog in him,” a smiling Cole Holcomb said.

Heinicke has been doubted throughout his entire career. Sunday’s game was just another fascinating chapter in his wild, wild ride.

“I don’t care about doubters. I don’t care what they have to say,” Heinicke said. “I care about the people who believe in me, and I want to prove them right. That means more to me than anyone else that has something negative to say. … I want to prove the people that believe in me right more than the doubters wrong. I could care less about those people.”

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