The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
There could not have been a more fitting day for Terry McLaurin to showcase exactly what he means to the Washington Commanders than Sunday.
Gary Clark was in the building for homecoming festivities and a celebration of the golden era during the 90 years of the franchise's history. So was Art Monk. And so was Ricky Sanders. The Posse was the most prolific trio of playmakers to share the field. One is in the Hall of Fame. In the case of Clark, he is a glaring omission.
At some point this season, McLaurin is going to pass Clark for the most receiving yards by any Washington receiver in the team's history. On Sunday, he leapfrogged Hall of Famer Charley Taylor to take over second and passed Jordan Reed for the second most receptions through four years as well. And it goes without saying that McLaurin's road to setting franchise marks is a far different one than his predecessors.
Many fans today (myself included) are admiring the latest tale of folklore surrounding the performance of Taylor Heinicke. And he deserves it. But McLaurin's role in the win over the Green Bay Packers, in my opinion, outweighs the guts and gumption of his plucky quarterback.
The Commanders had barely posted 14 points in a single game over the last month, so when they trailed 14-3 after the Packers pick six, it was hard to fathom what a comeback would look like without the great Aaron Rodgers contributing to it. But the magic of Heinicke is that games don't ever seem to be over. He has an energy that just permeates when he is on the field. So when he found McLaurin on the 37-yard strike to give Washington the lead in the second half, it was the perfect example of why that connection is so addictive. McLaurin is the star receiver who doesn't receive the same praise as others in his pay-grade. And Heinicke knows who deserves the shot to make it when a play has to be made.
The game-clinching drive (if you ignore the Stanford Band play Green Bay ran with no time remaining) featured two All-Pro level plays by McLaurin. The first was a second-and-6 at their own 29. It was a short, easy completion to McLaurin, who then turned into the first of two game sealing moments. Not only did his run after the catch go for 14 yards and a first down, but he somehow used his strength to fend off Jaire Alexander, who was trying to push McLaurin into the sideline and stop the clock. This is everything in one: athleticism, speed, game management and a level of strength he doesn't often, if ever get credit for.
The second play on the drive is what truly won the game. It was third-and-9 at the 44. Heinicke, under direct pressure right up the middle of the line, chucks one toward the Packers' sideline that is nowhere near the requisite distance to get to the out route McLaurin ran. But McLaurin adjusted, came back for the ball, made a catch in front of multiple Packers and earned a first down that would ultimately leave Rodgers with not enough time to do anything to stop a Washington win.
This catch reminded me of the early 2021 regular season game in Atlanta where Heinicke, under similar circumstances, needing a late score, just threw a lob pass in the back center of the end zone. McLaurin fought off defenders and made a catch that set up a would be game-winning drive. It suggests that these two have some kind of magical connection.
But it isn't these one-offs that makes me want to appreciate McLaurin today. It's his consistency and leadership that are worth admiring. When he signed an extension with the team, his first order of business was to write a letter to the fans expressing why he plans to live up to every penny on and off the field. When targets weren't coming his way through the first six weeks of the season, he was glad to acknowledge that we in the media noticed that maybe he should get the ball more (his targets are approximately 25% below what they were in the last two years), but there were no diva demands coming from his locker. And when Jahan Dotson was drafted, McLaurin made zero waves about potential running mates joining him and potentially stealing a spotlight that he doesn't seem to demand.
McLaurin's road to breaking franchise marks of Hall of Famers and would-be Hall of Famers is complicated. How many of the other top receivers of his draft class can say they have played with at least three different quarterbacks in the first three years of his career, and he's already on quarterback No. 2 this season? Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy in 2019. Haskins, Allen, Alex Smith and Heinicke in 2020. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Allen, Heinicke and Garrett Gilbert in 2021. And of course this year, Carson Wentz and now Heinicke for the 3-4 2022 run.
And through all of it – the offense ranked in the bottom third of the league the last few years – he is on pace for a third-straight thousand-yard season, a first in the franchise since the 1990s.
Clark's career started in the USFL. He ended up in Washington in 1985 and had a breakout rookie season catching 72 passes for 926 yards. Believe it or not, the quarterback combination of Joe Theismann and Jay Schroeder only threw for 3,200 yards on the season and had more interceptions than touchdowns. The following year, Clark had a 1200-plus yard season including the record for most receiving yards in a game by a Redskin in a non-strike contest – 241 yards in Monday Nighter against the Giants. In 1987, Clark had another 1000-yard season but did so in just 12 games as the NFL went on strike for a month.
The Washington Commanders take on the Green Bay Packers in Week 7. (Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Clark was overshadowed by the reliable Monk, who briefly held the NFL's all-time receiving record before everyone was lapped by Jerry Rice. Still, for us who grew up here, we know Clark as the most dangerous weapon on the field, and if you look closely, you'll see some of those same attributes in McLaurin including overlooked speed and strength and an uncanny ability to know where the open field may be after a catch. My favorite Clark move was a sideline comeback where he'd fake going toward the middle of the field (the usual move) only to spin back toward the sideline and try to bust one to the house. I haven't seen McLaurin try to pull that one off yet, but I'm waiting.
Earlier this year we in the booth had a long conversation about McLaurin getting national respect that is often afforded to true No. 1 receivers. There were so many times we'd see a replay of him getting yanked or pulled mid-route only to see the refs look the other way. When we spoke to him about it, he acknowledged it as an issue but refused to pound his chest demanding he get more respect. We even got to the point during a game wondering if he needed to be a little more demonstrative on the field to get some calls.
What I hope for McLaurin is that at some point the quarterback position gets settled once and for all, and whoever that long term answer is sees the same thing we and certainly Heinicke does. He's not just a number machine. He is arguably the most clutch receiver we have had here in recent memory. The numbers will support it.