Over the past year and a half, Washington's Terry McLaurin has quickly established himself as one of the best wide receivers in football. But in Thursday's Thanksgiving victory over Dallas, McLaurin's most impactful moment had nothing to do with catching a football.
Ahead by a touchdown midway through the third quarter, Washington was driving once again and threatening to enter scoring position. But then, Washington quarterback Alex Smith made a poor throw that landed in the hands of Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith with a whole lot of green grass ahead of him.
Smith took off for the end zone, and at first, it didn't appear as if anyone was going to catch him. All of a sudden though, No. 17 in burgundy came flying into the picture, dodging a half-hearted block from Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch before eventually catching up to Smith, dragging him down at the five-yard line.
"I saw the ball intercepted and I was in range. I was like, 'Man, I can run him down,'" McLaurin said postgame. "Then, I just saw me and him, and Vander Esch got in my way. But he didn't get enough of me, and I was like 'I can still run him down.' I know Jaylon Smith personally, he's a fast guy. I just wanted to keep playing until the whistle blew."
For McLaurin's teammates, the wide receiver's exceptional effort came as no surprise. The play was just another example of why McLaurin was unanimously voted a team captain a few weeks back.
Running back Antonio Gibson, who was caught in awe of McLaurin last week while Mic'd up, was extremely impressed with the wideout's ability to chase down Smith.
"I knew there was one guy that was about to block him," Gibson said. "I didn't think [McLaurin] was going to get [Smith] when he [Vander Esch] pushed him. But then he took two or three more steps and I was like 'Oh my god' and he caught him. He saved us big time right there."
For pass rusher Chase Young, who's been teammates with McLaurin for years dating back to their Ohio State days, McLaurin's effort on the play served as a microcosm for the type of player and person he is.
"I feel like everybody has to know what type of guy Terry is now," Young said. "High character, he's going to give it everything he has every time he steps on the field. Terry is one of those guys that you just know is gonna go every time he touches the field. Every time. He doesn't stop until the whistle is blown, and you saw that today."
McLaurin's touchdown-saving tackle was not only an exceptional effort, but it came at a critical part of the contest. The play -- and how Washington responded after the turnover -- was a true turning point in Thursday's victory.
"It's a huge play because all it did was give us a chance," head coach Ron Rivera said. "All you need is a chance, and it gave us the opportunity to do it, and that's what they did."
When Young and Washington's defense took the field following Smith's interception, the rookie pass rusher had one thing in mind: don't let Dallas in the end zone. After seeing McLaurin give all his effort to save the interception from being a pick-six, Young was determined to do his part in preventing the Dallas offense from punching it in for a touchdown.
That's exactly what the defense did. Dallas was unable to score on three tries and forced to settle for a Greg Zuerlein chip-shot field goal.
"It was a big play, a big stop," Young said. "We were glad that Terry hustled and got him down, so we knew going into the [series] we were gonna have to hold them. We did."
At the time, McLaurin didn't realize how big of a play his chase-down tackle would ultimately end up being. All he was focused on during that play was doing everything he could to prevent Dallas from scoring.
"I wasn't thinking about that in the moment, just trying to make a play," McLaurin said. "But, when our defense got that stop, that's when I kind of felt like, 'Wow, that was a big play.'"
"I feel like that's what you gotta do when you're a leader on the team," McLaurin continued. "You got to lead by example and never give up on any plays. You never know what can happen. That ended up being a big play for us. We preach that in our wide receiver room, just to play through every single play. You never know what's going to happen. I'm glad it worked out for us."
Alex Smith was visibly upset with himself for making that throw, ending what was a promising Washington drive that could have put the game well in Washington's favor. But, as McLaurin has done many times since entering the league, he bailed out his quarterback once again -- just in a different way.
"Thankful for Terry making that tackle and our defense bailing us out, bailing me out," Smith said. "Four points at that point in the game was a big change."
Washington's offense would get back on track shortly, though. After taking over on downs on Dallas' next possession, running back Antonio Gibson would find the end zone for the second time on the evening, extending Washington's lead to 11.
Then, after forcing Dallas to punt on their next drive, Washington orchestrated a 10-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by Gibson's third rushing score on the day, the dagger in the victory. A pick-six by Montez Sweat would put the cherry on top to a 41-16 victory and a sweep over the Cowboys this season.
"I think today, we played our best complimentary football today," Young said.
McLaurin's chase-down effort quickly earned comparisons to when Seattle pass-catcher DK Metcalf chased down Cardinals safety Budda Baker a few weeks prior on NBC's Sunday Night Football. It's not the first time the two pass-catchers have been compared -- and it certainly won't be the last considering they are both standout wide receivers from the same draft class.
McLaurin was asked about the comparisons between the two postgame but said he wasn't trying to be like Metcalf in that moment, rather, he was just hoping to make a play for the team.
"I hit DK up after he did that. I was like, 'Man, that was a crazy play,'" McLaurin said. "But, I'm Terry McLaurin at the end of the day. So, it's just kind of ironic that we made similar plays. I just wanted to make a play for our team."