A Confident Maclin Comes Up Big for Birds

If there was any doubt as to whether wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is back in top form, he erased it last Sunday. Maclin not only led the Philadelphia Eagles in receiving, he also made a spectacular, diving, one-handed catch that kept alive the drive that could have won the game.

The Eagles eventually lost 26-21 to the San Francisco 49ers, but that certainly wasn’t Maclin’s fault. The fourth-year wide receiver was a lonely bright spot against the 49ers, finishing with four receptions for 57 yards, including the one-hander that would have been the biggest play of the game if the Eagles had pulled it out. And Maclin was open on several other plays, but quarterback Nick Foles either overthrew him or got hammered before he had a chance to throw.

That comes one week after Maclin caught eight passes for 154 yards and a touchdown against Washington, and, after four weeks of the 2014 season, Maclin is on pace to finish the year with 80 receptions for 1,412 yards and 12 touchdowns – all of which would be career highs. And the yardage would set an Eagles record, eclipsing Mike Quick’s mark of 1,409 yards set in 1983.

Not bad for a guy who missed all of last season with a knee injury and came into this season as a question mark, especially since the Eagles parted ways with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and would rely on Maclin as their No. 1 receiver even more.

“I think I’ve played pretty well to this point,’’ Maclin said, “but you can always get better, and I look forward to getting better as a player in this game. I do think it’s been pretty exciting so far.’’

One of the reasons it’s been so exciting is became Maclin has made the most of his opportunities – going into Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams at Lincoln Financial Field, Maclin is only 30th in the NFL in receptions, with 20, but he’s fifth in receiving yards, with 353. And Maclin will be even more important to the Eagles offense if enemy defenses continue to stack up to stop running back LeSean McCoy. With Jackson gone, Maclin is the team’s lone deep threat – Riley Cooper and rookie Jordan Matthews are both big, possession receivers – and Maclin has become the Eagles’ big-play receiver.

“He’s unbelievable,’’ tight end Zach Ertz said. “He’s been making plays for us all season, but that’s what we expect out of him. He’s our go-to guy. He’s been doing this for a long time.”

But he couldn’t do it last year, and after spending months in grueling and often lonely rehabilitation, he was eased back into things in training camp. Maclin admitted he was cautious during the early days of camp, but as time went on he started to think less and less about the knee and more and more about getting open and catching the ball. And he said getting rid of any doubt has been a key to the quick start to his season.

“Confidence is what makes you go,’’ Maclin said. “I try to make every play I can and I’m confident I can make ever play. Any time I see a ball hit the ground in my vicinity it’s frustrating, because I want to make every play. … It’s always frustrating when you leave meat on the bone.’’

Speaking of groceries — there’s another reason this is a big season for Maclin. He was a free agent this offseason and, coming off a serious knee injury, he didn’t have a lot of suitors. So he signed a one-year contract with the Eagles in February worth $5.25 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed. It was a gamble that appears to be paying off and if Maclin stays healthy and keeps playing the way he has, there will be an even bigger pay day in his not-too-distant future. And if he wants to know how big, all he has to do is look at his ex-teammate – Jackson signed a four-year, $24 million contract with Washington, with $16 million guaranteed.

“I’ve always said that will take care of itself,’’ Maclin said of contract negotiations. “I’ve also always said that this is where I want to be.’’

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