The score was 20-13 in the third quarter of the Washington Football Team's Thanksgiving matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, and Jaylon Smith was seconds away from delivering the game-tying touchdown. Or so he thought.
Smith had just been gifted an easy interception as Alex Smith tried to hit Terry McLaurin as he was being brought down. After corralling the pass at the 47-yard line, all he had to do was streak into the end zone.
He was nearly there, too, until Terry McLaurin came sprinting down the sideline and took Smith down at the 4-yard line.
Washington's defense was then able to hold Dallas to a field goal. With one-extra effort play, McLaurin saved four points for Washington.
"It's a huge play, because all it did was give us a chance," head coach Ron Rivera said after the game. "Terry gave our defense a chance, the defense bowed its neck and forced the field goal."
The play will only show up as a tackle for McLaurin on the box score, but the impact of the moment goes far beyond that. That's what McLaurin's teammates have come to expect from the second-year receiver; he works hard, he doesn't quit and does everything he can to help his teammates. Oh, and by the way, he now leads the NFL with 963 receiving yards after his seven-reception, 92-yard performance against the Cowboys.
"I feel like everybody has to know what type of guy Terry is now," Chase Young. "High character, he's going to give it everything he has every time he steps on the field. Terry's one of those guys that you just know is gonna go every time he touches the field -- every time -- and he doesn't stop until the whistle is blown. You saw that today."
Smith had a five-yard lead on McLaurin when he first intercepted the ball, but McLaurin, who ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, felt like he could catch up to him. So he took off, and even though Leighton Vander Esch got in his way and altered his path, McLaurin quickly gained ground on Smith and made a shoestring tackle.
"I just wanted to keep playing until the whistle blew," McLaurin said. "Our defense made a great stop off of that play and helped propel us going forward."
McLaurin said he wasn't thinking about how big of a momentum shift the play would be in the moment; he was just trying to make a play. But when he saw Washington's defense force Dallas to settle for a field goal, the significance of the play started to set in.
"That's what you gotta do when you're a leader on the team," he said. "You just gotta...never give up on any plays because you never know what can happen. That ended up being a big play for us. We preach that in our wide receiver room to play through every single play, and you never know what's going to happen. I'm glad it worked out for us."
McLaurin had several big moments in Thursday's game, but his fourth-career tackle was undoubtedly the biggest. The play had echoes of Seattle Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf's play against Arizona Cardinals' safety Budda Baker, and ironically, McLaurin reached out to Metcalf after that Week 7 matchup. But McLaurin doesn't want to make any connection between the two plays. He was just trying to help his team get a win.
"It's a different type of mentality," McLaurin said. "You can't quit on any type of play, and I just wanted to fight until the whistle blew."