It had been 91 days since Robinson was shot twice in Northeast Washington.
“I’ve wanted to say this in front of the team, but since everything happened in August, man, I promise you – everyone in this room has shown unconditional love and support, man,” he said. said in a video the team posted on Twitter. “To really help me get to this point, man, I couldn’t be more thankful for everyone in this room, man. You were all people I turned to the most after I went through what I went through, man. Just to get this chance to do what I did today, I give you all the credit, man. Thanks everyone.”
The locker room erupted in applause for the rookie who, in a breakaway performance, led the Commanders’ offense to a 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Robinson totaled 18 carries for 105 yards and added two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown, and his ability to pass despite Atlanta’s five-man heavy boxes and fronts emphasized the value of the role Washington needed to fill when it drafted him in the third. round from Alabama this past spring.
“His performance was outstanding,” said Rivera.
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Third-string running back Jonathan Williams, who went to Arkansas, said every SEC running back prides himself on having a tough, hard style. But he admitted that Robinson had some Sundays so physical that even he had to say, “Oh, my God.”
One was early in the fourth quarter, when Robinson ran through an arm tackle, slammed out a cornerback, arched over a safety, and dragged two would-be tacklers for a first down.
“I’m not sure what his birthday is, but that day God gave him a lot of strength — and a little bit of size,” Williams said. “It’s genetics.”
In the first half, offensive coordinator Scott Turner stuck to the formula he often used with Robinson. He gave him the ball on first down and second and medium. Apparently Robinson was decisive every time, bursting into a heavy front and grinding four to six yards. He was a human snowplow, keeping the roads clear so the offense could stay on track.
At the end of the first quarter, Atlanta appeared to bet Robinson, so Turner switched it. He got the attack in a classic run look – tight formations, two tight ends, wide receiver Cam Sims – but instead he called a pass. Robinson leaked into the flat. Taylor Heinicke hit him with long strides.
Robinson ran over cornerback Darren Hall driven by linebacker Mykal Walker and extended his arm for the first receiving touchdown of his career.
“It’s you against a defensive back,” Robinson said. “You have to win at least 80, 90 percent of the time. So I pulled the trigger and it worked out well.”
In the second half, perhaps sensing that the run-heavy approach was wearing on the Falcons’ front, Turner leaned even more on Robinson. Washington’s first possession came back to third and one, and Turner got into a tight formation again, suggesting a run-up to center. Instead, Robinson took the ball on a long run to the left and used two excellent receiver blocks to go out for a 21-yard gain.
“I wish he was a little faster,” joked wide receiver Dyami Brown, one of the blockers. “I’m going to take him to speed training in the off-season so he can start scoring [next time].”
On the next drive, Turner started with a Robinson run (five yards). Then another (six) and another (seven) and another (two). In total, Turner called nine runs in eleven plays—six for Robinson—and Heinicke threw a touchdown to tight end John Bates for a lead the team never relinquished. Robinson had gone from snowplow to pace car.
In the locker room afterward, after Robinson’s speech, teammates gushed about the rookie. The running backs, Williams and Antonio Gibson, said he was nowhere near his ceiling. Everyone else applauded his resilience and character.
“Man, it was heartwarming,” defensive end Montez Sweat said of the speech. “With everything he’s been through, you just want him to succeed – and to be a part of that just feels so much better.”
“I was so happy and proud of him for what he’s been through and for the type of person he is,” said Charles Leno Jr. “He’s a great person, a great human being, and I love everything about him.”
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After a whirlwind of interviews, Robinson was back at his locker, his big hat on backwards. He said he was trying to help promote his friend’s big hat business. Ron Dyer, whose daughter befriended Robinson in Alabama, bought the hat from NogginBoss, who appeared on the entrepreneurial TV show “Shark Tank.” Dyer and his son Kaleb created a custom Commanders design and gave it to Robinson, Kaleb said.
The silly moment seemed fitting for a team and player who have unlikely come out of a storm and found success.
“If you want a big hat, let me know,” Robinson said with a grin.
Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.