CLEVELAND — Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson knew what the questions were going to be about, but he agreed to listen to one anyway in the visitors’ locker room of Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium after New Orleans’ last-minute, 26-24 defeat, a loss that dropped the Saints to 0-2.
Robinson’s afternoon saw him get beat on a short touchdown pass at the end of a drive on which he was whistled for a pass interference on a third-down incompletion. Officials flagged him for a neutral-zone infraction that nullified a missed field goal and enabled the Browns to score three points on a kick a few plays later to build a 10-0 lead at the conclusion of the first quarter.
And he drew a declined penalty on a pass play that set up a 29-yard, game-winning field goal with three seconds left. What adjustments, Robinson was asked, could he personally make as he and the Saints readied themselves to play the 14 games remaining on their regular-season schedule?
“Just got to keep working,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to keep working to get it right. Well, I’m not sure it’s going to come overnight — just have to keep working on my assignments, my technique. (It’s as) simple as that — simple.”
Then as more reporters approached him, Robinson excused himself to shower and prepare for the Saints’ return flight to New Orleans.
There’s no doubt Robinson was hoping for a better start to his season than the one he’s had after recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for all but the first two games of 2013.
He was beat on receptions of 35 and 27 yards on drives resulting in Falcons touchdowns in a 37-34 season-opening setback at Atlanta on Sept. 7. And many Saints fans, infuriated that the team was vanquished in Week 1, focused much of their anger on Robinson. Robinson landed on New Orleans’ roster over 36-year-old cornerback Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler signed in April but cut at the end of the preseason.
Since being selected by the Saints in the first-round of the 2010 draft, Robinson has struggled at times, most notably when New Orleans’ defense surrendered the most yards in NFL history two seasons ago (when coach Sean Payton was suspended after the bounty scandal). Saints fans flocked to various platforms to express fears that Robinson was in the middle of another swoon in Atlanta, when New Orleans’ defense as a whole was scorched for 448 yards passing.
Unfortunately for Robinson, he didn’t quiet those fears in Cleveland, where the Browns were without their three best offensive players: All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon (suspended), Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron (injured shoulder) and running back Ben Tate (hurt knee).
On the Browns’ second offensive drive of the game, Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer (24-of-40 for 204 yards and a touchdown) overthrew a pass toward wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who was being covered well by Robinson. But then Robinson barged into Benjamin, was called for pass interference, and Cleveland was given a new set of downs at New Orleans’ 14.
Five plays later, the Browns were at the Saints’ 3 on a first-and-goal in a shotgun formation; and at right outside cornerback, Robinson was on receiver Miles Austin. Austin stepped to the left sideline after the snap, but then he immediately slanted to the right.
Robinson was fooled by Benjamin’s first move outside. Benjamin easily caught a quick strike from Hoyer inside that gave Cleveland a 7-0 lead.
After that sequence, the Saints yanked Robinson off the outside spot opposite cornerback Keenan Lewis in base packages and subbed in third-year man Corey White. Robinson from then on was seen lining up at the outside spot opposite Lewis only in packages in which the Saints slid White over to cover a slot receiver.
The switch didn’t entirely shield Robinson from more mishaps. Browns kicker Billy Cundiff had drilled the right upright on a field-goal attempt off a fourth-and-4 from New Orleans’ 26, but Robinson was flagged for drifting into the neutral zone before the snap. The Browns got 5 yards, a first down, a 32-yard field goal from Cundiff after three plays, and a 10-0 advantage.
Lots of other things occurred for the Browns to score 16 more points and deny the Saints’ bid for a comeback victory, such as an interception thrown by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees that was run back by safety Tashaun Gipson for a touchdown. The final nail was a blown coverage by the Saints that allowed Hoyer to complete a 28-yard pass to receiver Andrew Hawkins, putting Cleveland at New Orleans’ 11 with six seconds left to set up the game-winning kick by Cundiff.
However, even if the Saints had somehow made a play on the ball, it wouldn’t have counted, because Robinson was caught blatantly, illegally grabbing the jersey of Taylor Gabriel as the Browns receiver ran across the field on an underneath route from New Orleans’ left to right.
Afterward, Payton was asked whether he’d consider permanently modifying Robinson’s future role with the Saints.
Payton said he’d not discuss such matters with the media immediately after a game. He also said, “There’s a lot of muddy hands to just single out one player.
“There were a handful of us struggling today,” Payton said. “I’m sure there is going to be a ton of stuff on tape we’ve got to look at and will want to clean up.
“(Robinson’s) going to work to improve. And we’ve got to look at it overall, how we can help not just him, but the rest of the guys.”