Leading 17-10 at the start of the fourth quarter of their preseason opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night, the New Orleans Saints entrusted undrafted rookie running back Khiry Robinson to run the game out.
Robinson rushed a dozen times against the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter, gaining 52 yards, or a sturdy 4.3 yards per attempt.
He added two catches for 15 yards, and it proved to be enough to help the Saints defeat the Chiefs 17-13, giving Sean Payton his first win in the NFL since Jan. 7, 2012.
Robinson, who played at NCAA Division II West Texas A&M University, is a long shot to become the Saints’ fourth running back. Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas are expected to split up the vast majority of the work in the regular season if they avoid injuries, and Travaris Cadet is penciled in behind them.
Cadet appeared in 13 games for the Saints last year, mostly returning kickoffs. But his role may expand this season now that Chris Ivory, who was behind Ingram, Sproles and Thomas when healthy, is with the New York Jets.
Nonetheless, lining up with the third-team offense, Robinson on Friday outgained Ingram, Sproles and Cadet, and he amassed the most combined receiving and rushing yardage for the Saints.
Ingram and Sproles were used sparingly with the first-team offense. Ingram rushed three times for 12 yards, and Sproles ran twice for 3 yards. Thomas did not play after leaving practice early on Wednesday and sitting out Thursday.
Cadet then ran for 40 yards on 13 carries, or 3.1 yards an attempt, with the second unit. He had the longest run of the night, a 17-yarder on first-and-10 from midfield in which he found a hole created by tight end Michael Higgins and right tackle Bryce Harris and followed lead blocks from Marcel Jones at right guard and fullback Austin Johnson.
When it was his turn, the 6-foot, 220-pound Robinson got the Saints four first downs. The biggest one came on a fourth-and-3 at Kansas City’s 31 with 2:39 remaining, when Robinson ran around the left end for 5 yards.
A few plays earlier, Robinson went around the left end for 15 yards on a first-and-10 from New Orleans’ 47, his longest rush of the evening.
Robinson recorded the longest reception among the Saints rushers, gaining 17 yards on a second-and-6. But then he lost 2 yards on his other catch.
Immediately after the game, attention from most fans and media did not go to Robinson. A lot of it focused on the receivers vying to replace No. 3 wideout candidate Joe Morgan, who suffered a torn meniscus and a partial ACL tear in his left knee during the Black and Gold Scrimmage on Aug. 3 and is set to miss the season.
There was discussion about Preston Parker, who signed with the Saints this past offseason after three years in Tampa Bay and caught a pair of 2-yard touchdown passes from second-team quarterback Luke McCown. He finished with four receptions for 43 yards, 33 of which came on one play.
Nick Toon, with four catches for 66 yards, and Andy Tanner, whose 37-yard reception was the longest passing play of the night for the Saints, also drew praise.
Meanwhile, Payton described his first game back from his season-long, bounty scandal-related suspension in 2012 as frustrating, alluding to the seven penalties the Saints were flagged for and the 106 and 136 yards New Orleans surrendered on six punt returns and three kickoff returns, respectively.
“There were a ton of little things that we have to be better at,” Payton said, in part. “I just thought it was sloppy.”
Robinson, though, was far from sloppy on his carries, and he seems to have quietly solidified his case to at least stay in consideration at this point in the preseason.
That’s exactly what he wanted out of Friday.
Asked what he was looking forward to in facing the Chiefs, Robison told the Saints’ in-house publicity staff he would “try to be perfect. Pick up every block, run every route right, hit the right hole and finish all my runs.”
“Basically,” he said, “just ... do everything right.”
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