Grant Prather, 26, took the initiative and shouted at McLaurin from the stands.
“He was like, ‘Yo, I gotta play to win the game!’ McLaurin recalled after the Commanders’ 17-16 win. “Your family and friends think you’re going to make every game and you’re just going to run off into the sunset. You just don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” .
But Prather did – because he had seen it many times in this stadium, dating back as far as McLaurin’s college days.
“There was no doubt in my mind,” Prather said. “…That’s exactly what he does.”
McLaurin wide receivers coach Drew Terrell also knew how it would end. He saw it last weekend against the Green Bay Packers.
“Damn, yeah,” Terrell said. “When I saw him turn around and run, I looked back [quarterback Taylor Heinicke] to see if Taylor was watching him. When I saw him throwing it up, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s game over.’ ”
And of course, the McLaurin quarterback knew it. As he turned away from his target, Heinicke found McLaurin heading straight for the end zone and thought, “Hey, let’s give him another chance.”
With 41 seconds remaining, McLaurin put a double-whack on two-time pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, running up the field, turning and stopping in the flat, then running back to the area goals as Heinicke threw a pass to him. With Gilmore clinging to his shoulder, McLaurin latched onto the ball as it fell to the turf at the 1-yard line for a 33-yard gain, setting up a quick touchdown from Heinicke to win it.
McLaurin stormed off the field after his capture, shouting, “This is my city! This is my fucking town!
Buckner: Taylor Heinicke gives volatile franchise a little taste of stability
The Indianapolis native who grew up a Colts fan and idolized Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison couldn’t have scripted a better homecoming. McLaurin’s Cathedral High teams won four state championships at Lucas Oil Stadium, he won two Big Ten titles there with Ohio State, and in his first home game as a pro, McLaurin became the star and the savior of the Commanders victory, which extended their winning streak to three games.
Now 4-4, Washington is squarely in the hunt for an NFC wild card spot – and he largely has McLaurin to thank. He had six catches for 113 yards on Sunday and was the difference maker in consecutive weeks, proving Washington was right in its decision to hand him more than $70 million on a contract extension over the summer.
His feat on Sunday was shared by more than 70 friends and family members who saw a performance that boosted their rating by years. Among that group were Prather and six others who have been part of McLaurin’s rise since elementary school and were with him again in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium to celebrate his victory.
What they didn’t know was that McLaurin was a decoy on the play.
“We were really trying to open a hole for number two,” Heinicke explained. “I wasn’t comfortable throwing at number two because I couldn’t see clearly. Maybe it was open. Maybe not. I do not know.”
The play turned into a scramble exercise, and when he turned left, Heinicke saw McLaurin sprinting past Gilmore into the end zone.
“Terry wasn’t going to be turned down,” coach Ron Rivera said.
“Terry is that guy,” Heinicke said. “He’s got that dog in him, and I want to keep giving him opportunities to make big plays.”
The play was another chapter in McLaurin’s storied Indianapolis career — and the most memorable moment in an otherwise botched win that became inspirational in the final minutes.
“I had a lot of confidence that I was going to go down with that ball,” McLaurin said. “…It’s kind of cool to be able to make this kind of play when earlier in my career, in college and all, I struggled with contested catches.”
Analysis of Sunday’s victory
Nothing ever comes easy for these commanders — not even a game to win against a Colts team with a quarterback who had never thrown an NFL pass. Not even when that humble Colts team practically handed them gifts.
The Commanders had a 7-3 second quarter lead when the Colts (3-4-1), led by 2021 sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger, ran the ball six straight. The Colts made it to Washington’s 13-yard line before Ehlinger dropped the ball in a scramble. Washington clawed back the fumble, only to burn a pair of timeouts before Heinicke threw a near-interception.
On the one hand, the Colts had offered an impeachment of their young quarterback with a game plan of just running the ball and not screwing up. On the other, Washington’s defense had been nicked and its quarterback was seemingly out of control.
But the mess is Washington’s way — especially with Heinicke, who went 23 for 31 for 279 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 98.7 passer rating. As a locker room favorite, he almost instantly boosted the trailing Commanders offense in a Week 7 home win over the Packers while replacing the injured Carson Wentz. And in spurts on Sunday, that magic was there.
After joining McLaurin for a 42-yard catch out of the slot, Heinicke found running back Antonio Gibson for a nine-yard touchdown pass and a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. But any momentum created by this conduct quickly crumbled.
The defense, playing without linebacker Cole Holcomb (sprained foot), tried to compensate by using more front-fives that they paired with their big nickel package (three safeties and two cornerbacks) at the back. But the Colts and their rushing 30th-range offense did light work of the commanders in the first half, collecting 92 yards averaging 6.6 per carry. Only a pair of redzone turnovers spared Commanders from higher damage.
After Ehlinger’s fumble late in the second quarter, running back Jonathan Taylor fumbled deep into Washington territory late in the third. Sophomore safety Darrick Forrest knocked the ball out of Taylor’s reach while tackling it, and defensive end Casey Toohill recovered.
But Washington squandered the gift. The offense ended in three outs after Heinicke was sacked on third down. The Colts snatched a few big plays before safety Kam Curl stopped them before the goal line and Jamin Davis followed with a run to force Indianapolis to settle for a field goal.
That was enough for the Colts to claim a 9-7 lead. Commanders had plenty of time to bounce back, but they didn’t choose the easy path.
On the first play of the next possession, Heinicke, under heavy pressure from defensive end Tyquan Lewis, threw a pass down the middle, where wide receiver Cam Sims was surrounded by three Colts. Linebacker Shaquille Leonard made the pass and about a minute later the Colts were in the end zone on a six-yard touchdown by Nyheim Hines that made their lead 16-7.
A week after appearing somewhat effective, commanders struggled with issues on both sides of the ball. The defense failed to eliminate the big plays, giving up four for 25 or more yards. The offense struggled to create lanes for its rushers, totaling just 96 yards on 28 carries (3.4 per attempt). And only three of Washington’s 11 drives have gained more than 30 yards, largely thanks to an abysmal performance on third down (2 for 12, 16.7%).
Rivera couldn’t hide his frustration, even after the win, “because there are things we should have done,” he said.
Commanders had a chance for a touchdown early in the fourth, but a missed third attempt killed the drive and left them with three on a 28-yard field goal from Joey Slye.
After holding the defense, McLaurin got his moment in the dying seconds. In the tunnel soon after, he reunited with Prather and his old friends. As they kissed, Prather reminded McLaurin of what he had seen and known for years.
“I grew up with Terry,” he said. “I saw him score in that stadium in college. I saw him score in that stadium in high school. I saw him score in the Big Ten championship. So I said, ‘Go win the game, man. .’ And he said, ‘I got you.’ ”
McLaurin was the star after the game. Before that, he was flabbergasted.
“I just wanted to stay focused on the game, but before the game Marvin Harrison came up to me and wanted to take a picture, and I was like, ‘Me?’ ” he said. “It was just an extremely complete moment.
“You never know when you’re a kid. You’re just dreaming and standing right next to your idols…and then you get in the game, play in front of your family and friends and have a chance to play to win the game? I’m blessed.”
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