The New Orleans Saints signed Craig Robertson as an unrestricted free agent on March 25, 2016, so that he could give them the kind of play that he did on Nov. 4, 2018.
Robertson spent much of his first two seasons as a Saint playing linebacker in the base defense and sub packages, and was the Saints’ leading tackler over the two-year period. But the veteran made his bones as a special team player. And Sunday, in the Saints’ 45-35 victory over the Rams in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he likely made the most impactful special teams play of the day.
With the score tied at 14-14 and the Rams in prime position to score after recovering Mark Ingram’s fumble with 14:02 left in the second quarter, the Saints held Los Angeles to six yards on three plays. Then, the Rams lined up to attempt a field goal from the Saints’ 16-yard line, with 13:14 left in the first half.
“Lined up to attempt a field goal” was all the Rams did. It was a fake.
Punter Johnny Hekker, the holder, pulled up the snap and began his sprint toward the first-down marker on the right sideline. And he looked like he easily would cover the distance.
But Robertson quickly sniffed out the deception, and tracked Hekker as if drawn to a magnet. Robertson met Hekker near the first-down marker – actually, a couple inches shy of it, according to the official’s spot – and forced the punter out of bounds.
The Rams challenged the spot, replay upheld the on-field call, and the Saints took over possession on downs with 13:06 left in the second quarter. Ten plays later, Drew Brees threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith to give the Saints a 21-14 lead and to spark a 21-point, second-quarter offensive explosion.
But it was Robertson’s play that prevented a Rams first down and, possibly, a Rams field goal or touchdown. In a game where stops were few and precious, that tackle took points off the board and helped turn the game in New Orleans’ favor.