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Conor McDermott's Improbable Touchdown Grab Was Weeks in the Making

New York Jets offensive lineman Conor McDermott caught a touchdown pass from QB Zach Wilson in the fourth quarter of a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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Jets quarterback Zach Wilson called it the "highlight of [his] entire life so far."

Clinging to a one-point lead over the Jaguars in the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon, the Jets elected to go for it on fourth and goal from the one yard line. 

As the play developed, Wilson was forced to backpedal out of the pocket, retreating to the edge of the red zone. At that moment, it looked like a broken play, a disappointing end to New York's best drive of the afternoon. 

That's when offensive lineman Conor McDermott flashed across the back of the end zone, waving his hands with no defenders around him. 

"I realized while I was running the route that there was nobody on me," McDermott told reporters after the game. "Zach and I made eye contact last second, we pulled up and I was just like, 'throw it!'"

Wilson did throw it, lobbing one up to his eligible receiver. As a defender closed in, McDermott leaped high in the air to make the catch, hauling in the touchdown pass before getting mauled by his teammates in celebration.

"It was just exciting. I was like, 'I'm catching this,'" McDermott said, smiling after the 26-21 win. "Saw the ball and just grabbed it. My old tight end skills from high school came out."

The big-man touchdown didn't just spark an eruption from the fans at MetLife Stadium—and a dogpile on McDermott in the end zone—but the touchdown, in a way, proved to be the difference in the win. 

READ: Jets Survive to Beat Jaguars on Dramatic Goal Line Stand

New York went on to beat the Jaguars by five points on a dramatic stop on defense with just seconds to go in the fourth quarter. It's a whole different ballgame if Wilson doesn't find McDermott there for the improbable highlight-reel score.

As it turns out, this is a play that the Jets have been toying around with for a long time.

Interim head coach Ron Middleton—who filled in for Robert Saleh this week after the head coach tested positive for COVID-19—revealed that New York hasn't just had this play as an option for four or five weeks, but they ran it twice in practice leading up to Sunday's game.

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Usually Dan Feeney, another backup lineman, plays tight end on this specific play. But with COVID-19 keeping two starting offensive linemen out this week, Feeney had other responsibilities, handing his route-running duties over to McDermott. 

Both times Gang Green ran it in practice, the ball went to McDermott.

"McDermott has been saying all along, ‘Hey. I’m an ex-tight end.’ This guy even came to me and was like, ‘What kind of release do you think I should use? Should I go out-and-in or just swim him?’ Like, get away from me, we’re not getting you the ball!" Middleton joked after the game. "We ran this play twice in practice this week and Zach has thrown it to him both times with no pressure, no ad-libbing at all. Throw it to him and he looked very natural catching the ball. 

"He made a hell of a catch today. I was so happy for him."

Wilson walked through the play from his perspective after the game as well, admitting there was a second of hesitation before he threw one up to a backup offensive lineman in a huge spot.

"I threw it to Derm two times in practice just joking around, ‘Hey, that’d be funny if he caught it,’ whatever," Wilson explained. "It’s not even part of the read. So I go through one, two, three, pressure comes up the middle, I escaped to the right and I just see this big dude with his hands in the air in the back of the end zone with nobody around him. 

"I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, should I throw it to him? Is this happening? This is exactly what we talked about. What happens if I scramble and he’s open?’ The dude made an awesome catch coming down with it. But that was probably one of the [most fun] moments of my college, NFL, high school, whatever, career to hit that one right there. It was awesome."

Asked about Wilson's postgame comment, McDermott said he was honored. It was certainly a special moment for the fifth-year lineman, but the UCLA product assured that Wilson will rack up many more memorable plays in his NFL career far better than Sunday's shocking score.

"I'm just so excited I could help the team," he said. "It was a great play he made, I was just there to make the catch."

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