Keenan Robinson came to the Giants with a reputation for being injury prone.
In a funny way, it was that label and that experience which helped him make the biggest yet most underappreciated play in Sunday’s win over the Eagles.
“I love playing football,” he said on Sunday after the 28-23 victory at MetLife Stadium. “I’ve been playing it since I was like 7. Ever since I got the first injury I don’t take the game for granted. Every time I get to play I try to make the most of it, have fun, fly around.”
Robinson was credited with 10 defensive tackles, the most he’s had in a single game for the Giants. But it was his special teams takedown on speedy Darren Sproles that likely saved the win. And his attitude post-injuries that spurred him to make it.
With the Giants ahead, 21-10, in the second quarter, Sproles fielded a long punt from Brad Wing down the middle of the field at the 19 and took off for what looked to be a sure touchdown. He found a crease up the middle, broke to the sideline, and was using his well-known speed to blow past all the blue jerseys.
But before you could ask what in the name of Matt Dodge was happening to the Giants, Robinson was in the picture.
He was the last man with a chance to make the play. He shed his blocker and then joined the race.
“He went outside and I just took off sprinting trying to knock him out of bounds,” Robinson said. “I couldn’t get a really good shot but I tried to knock him out of bounds . . . I was just hoping to get some little type of swipe. Maybe if I even missed him he would try to jump over me and go out of bounds. It ended up working. I barely got him, but it was enough.”
Sproles touched the sideline at the 15, where the Eagles set up their offense. Three plays later, after a 9-yard completion from Carson Wentz to Jordan Matthews (on which Robinson missed the initial tackle attempt), the Eagles passed up a second short field goal in the game and tried to convert a fourth-and-1. Rookie safety Andrew Adams held the edge and turned Sproles, the running back, inside to where Damon Harrison and Kelvin Sheppard tackled him for no gain.
What seemed like a touchdown only moments earlier wound up being another Eagles possession without any points scored. The defense got credit for the fourth-down stop, but it was Robinson’s special teams hustle that set it all up.
“A lot of guys did,” Robinson said when asked if teammates acknowledged the impact of his tackle on the punt return. “I just play the game as it comes. Every play to me is a big play. I missed a couple of tackles, and to me those are big plays that might have changed the outcome of the game. Who knows? But every opportunity I get I try to capitalize on and I was able to make the most of that one.”
That attitude came to him as a result of missing so many games during his career with Washington. His rookie season ended with him on injured reserve with a torn right pectoral muscle. He spent his entire second season on IR when he tore his left pectoral in training camp. In 2014, he played 13 games, all as a starter, but last year he missed four games with rib and shoulder injuries. He started eight games for Washington in 2015 and had 35 tackles.
He came to the Giants as a free-agent afterthought this offseason, signing behind headliners Janoris Jenkins, Harrison and Olivier Vernon. It seemed like a depth signing at the time, a veteran who might be able to help from time to time. Instead, Robinson has become one of the most important pieces on the Giants’ defense.
Robinson is healthy so far, a surprise to those who saw him as damaged goods. He also has a healthy attitude.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I love this group of guys we have and the scheme we have. We can be so much better than how we have played. We’ve played good at times and we’ve played bad at times. But I know that as long as we keep on going and pushing higher we’ll become the dominant defense that we want to have.”
He’s the middle linebacker in the nickel package, which means he plays more than the base middle linebacker Sheppard. He makes the calls and the checks.
“I want to make sure my teammates can rely on me,” he said. “I trust those guys that they will do theirs and I know they trust me that I will do mine. That’s basically how this year has been. I don’t want to let these guys down. We have a lot of big-name guys and I want them to trust me to make sure that they can rely on me as a linebacker.”
And, on Sunday, as a special teamer.
“I was just thankful I was in the right spot,” he said of the Sproles tackle at the 15.
That’s why the Giants signed him.