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Practice notes | Terry McLaurin proved he can still be a play maker vs. Rams


Terry McLaurin was lined up out wide at the Los Angeles Rams' 29-yard line and gave a quick stutter step before sprinting past cornerback Derion Kendrick towards the end zone. Jacoby Brissett lofted it up to the veteran receiver, and just as he's done so many times in his career, McLaurin leapt and made the grab over Kendrick for a touchdown.

It was McLaurin's third score of the season and first since Oct. 29 -- a high point during a career day that saw him catch six passes for 141 yards. It's something we haven't seen often enough from him this season.

It's been an up-and-down year for McLaurin, despite being on track for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard campaign -- a feat that no other Washington receiver has achieved in the 90-plus years of the franchise's existence. He's been held to less than 50 yards in six games, including zero yards and no catches against the Miami Dolphins. 

Though it came in a 28-20 loss, it showed that Terry can still be scary.

"You always want to put your best foot forward coming out," McLaurin said in the locker room on Wednesday. "I know what I'm capable of, and I believe our coaches and my teammates believe that as well. It was just good to be able to do that in a game situation where we needed to have it and [give] our team some energy."

No matter who has been running the Commanders' offense for the last four seasons, getting the ball to McLaurin has been the top priority for any quarterback wearing burgundy and gold, from Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz to Garrett Gilbert and Kyle Allen. The relationship with McLaurin and **Sam Howell** got off to a good enough start with the then-rookie's first career pass going to McLaurin for a touchdown. They also connected on a 52-yard bomb later in the second half of the 26-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

There have been moments like that this year, such as the 30-yard touchdown in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos and the 26-yard score against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct.29, but the explosive plays simply haven't hit the way many expected them to with the duo. Although he's on pace for 136 targets, which would be a career high, he's also projected to finish with his lowest number of yards since his rookie year. 

"I think it's still developing," coach Ron Rivera said of the connection between Howell and McLaurin. "I think, again, early on when they had it rolling together, it was really about Sam getting the ball fed to Terry."

Those problems have popped up at various points of the season. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, for example, McLaurin couldn't haul in two critical passes that would have kept the Commanders' offense on the field, despite being open on both plays. McLaurin took some of the blame for the uncharacteristic drops, although in fairness to him, both passes were low and off-target.

Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders preparing for their Christmas Eve matchup against the New York Jets.

One game after McLaurin's zero-catch game -- just the second of his career -- against the Dolphins, there was more of an emphasis from Howell to get the ball to McLaurin. On a fourth-and-2 in the first quarter, Howell found McLaurin for a 24-yard gain that put Washington at the Rams' 21-yard line.

There were other plays where it was clear that Howell and McLaurin are still trying to get in sync. Facing a third-and-4 in the second quarter, Howell took a second too long to recognize that McLaurin was open in the middle of the field on a slant route. The ball still ended up going to McLaurin, but the receiver took a hard hit from a Rams defender and could not bring in the catch.

Things looked different with Brissett at quarterback. After McLaurin's touchdown, the wideout beat Kendrick again in man coverage and caught the pass from Brissett in stride before being taken down at the 1-yard line. 

"It's kind of a case-by-case thing," Howell said. "Every play is kind of different and there were some chances late in the game where they kind of left him one-on-one and we took advantage of it. But I mean, we try to do those things every single game when we get those opportunities."

With the Commanders facing the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, all of which have top defenses with talented secondaries, Rivera said the Commanders want to focus on finishing strong. A quick way to do that would be getting more attention to McLaurin, who has double-digit targets in just five games this season.

"We're going to continue to work it and see if we can find more ways to create those things," Rivera said. "We're at the point now I think where you should have the familiarity with what we do as a group, and we got to find the ways to be explosive and use him in these last few games."

Part of that will also require Howell to get out of the slump that he's been in for the past month. His passer rating has been 50.5 over the last two games, and he hasn't had multiple passing touchdowns in a game since Nov. 12. 

McLaurin, however, still trusts that Howell can get the job done.

"Him and I have been close on a lot of plays this year," McLaurin said. "We've made some, we've missed some. The thing I like about is that he's still not shying away from still taking those opportunities ... We just gotta find a way to help him out and make some of those tougher plays."

The Commanders will need more from their offense if they hope to compete against the final three teams on the schedule. Getting Howell and McLaurin on the same page at a more consistent level would certainly help in that endeavor.

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