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'I've never seen him so animated': Heinicke's trust in McLaurin paying off

The Washington Commanders vs the Green Bay Packers October 23, 2022 (week 7)
The Washington Commanders vs the Green Bay Packers October 23, 2022 (week 7)

Taylor Heinicke knew Terry McLaurin was fired up after catching a 37-yard touchdown in Sunday's win over the Packers, but the quarterback didn't realize how emotional his star wide receiver became until he later watched a replay of their celebration. 

McLaurin yanked his helmet off and screamed at his teammates. In a clip posted on the Commanders' social media accounts, McLaurin can be seen yelling, "That's the ball, boy!" to Heinicke repeatedly on the sideline. 

"I've never seen him so animated," Heinicke said.

In his fourth season, McLaurin seems more in tune with his emotions than ever before. Or to be more precise, he's embracing his competitiveness. McLaurin said he's come to realize that his teammates can feed off his energy when they see him more animated. "There's a time and place for it," he added, though noted the celebrations aren't calculated. "I'm just me."

It helps he has a quarterback who is willing to try to get him the ball.

The Washington Commanders have wrapped up their second day of practice this week. Here are the best photos from Thursday afternoon. Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders

Since he was drafted in 2019, McLaurin has played with nine different starting quarterbacks. None of them have targeted him more frequently than Heinicke, who is set to start his second straight game Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. In Washington's victory over the Packers, Heinicke targeted McLaurin eight times — marking the eighth time in which the wideout received at least eight targets with Heinicke under center. The next closest quarterback to near that mark was Dwayne Haskins, who had five such games with McLaurin. 

McLaurin averages 7.7 targets per game with Heinicke — more than he got from his old college teammate Haskins (7), or from Alex Smith (6.5), or Carson Wentz (6.2). Not a huge difference, but every opportunity matters for a wideout.

"I hope I can get as many targets as I can from every quarterback," McLaurin said. "But the benefit him and I have, we've had more reps than some of the other quarterbacks I've had the pleasure to play with. Building that camaraderie, building that rapport takes time. 

"It takes reps. … It's hard to just have that when you have a new quarterback." 

McLaurin's point is well put. After all, McLaurin and Heinicke have played 17 games together, leading to 77 completions for 1,035 yards. Haskins, meanwhile, is the only other signal-caller who exceeded 10 games. Heinicke understands where McLaurin is going to be — and he trusts he's going to haul it in. Last season, McLaurin led the league in contested catches.

But Heinicke has a simpler explanation: McLaurin is the Commanders' best receiver. So naturally, he's going to get the ball.

"When I see him 1-on-1, I want to give him that chance," Heinicke said. "He's continued to make those plays."

Publicly, McLaurin has never complained about Washington's quarterback instability — or lack of touches. When the Commanders failed to get him involved early in the first half of games this season, the 27-year-old gave a diplomatic answer about the troubles — telling reporters he only cared about winning.

But don't mistake McLaurin's professionalism for a lack of competitiveness. Smith, now an analyst for ESPN, said on a podcast recently that McLaurin "is one of the most competitive receivers I've ever played with." That didn't result in McLaurin screaming for the ball, Smith said, but he could tell by the way the wideout fights for the ball.

Told of Smith's quote, McLaurin laughed. He then shared a story how when he was younger, he once got the letters x,y, z and k in Scrabble — and spent 15 minutes determined to try to make a move.

There would be no swapping of letters in McLaurin's household. But it provided a lesson for him, too.

"There's a difference between being competitive, wanting to win every single thing and sometimes things don't work out," McLaurin said. "But I hate losing. More than I like winning."

This weekend will carry extra meaning for McLaurin, too. The former third-rounder grew up in Indianapolis, rooting for the Colts. Not only did his parents have season tickets -- Section 540 -- but McLaurin was such a Colts fan he went dressed as star wide receiver Marvin Harrison for Halloween. Twice.

McLaurin plans on having north of 70 people -- family and friends -- at the game. Still, the priority, he said, is to make sure the Commanders earn their third straight victory.

Against the Packers, McLaurin caught five catches for 73 passes. That actually wasn't a season high — he caught six for 102 yards against the Eagles in Week 3, with Wentz under center. But call the Packers performance his best of the season.

Beyond the 37-yard touchdown, McLaurin essentially iced the game for Washington by converting a huge third-and-9 to help Washington drain the clock in the final minutes.

On that play, Heinicke released the ball just as he took a hit from a nearby Packers defender, and McLaurin held on despite getting blasted on his way to the ground.

"He threw that the ball with a lot of trust," McLaurin said of Heinicke. "As a receiver, that's all you can ask from your quarterback."

Check out more Commanders coverage at The Washington Times' website.

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