It was first-and-10 at the Washington Commanders' 27-yard line, and it appeared as if Brian Robinson Jr. was preparing to run into the wall of white jerseys and blue helmets that made up the Denver Broncos' defensive front.
But just as it looked as though the Broncos were going to converge on the second-year running back for a minimal gain, Robinson popped out from the pile of defenders and sprinted upfield, spinning and juking his way to a 27-yard gain before dragging a Broncos defensive back out of bounds.
The play was exactly what the Commanders needed after letting the Broncos retake a three-point lead in the third quarter. It flipped the field for the offense, putting them at the Broncos' 46-yard line, and three plays later, Robinson plowed through the Broncos' defense once again, this time for a two-yard touchdown.
We haven't seen many plays from Robinson like the one he had in the third quarter of Washington's 35-33 win over the Broncos. In fact, it was the longest run of his career and just his third run of at least 20 yards. But after his 129-yard performance on the road, perhaps fans should start to expect those numbers to be more common. As he gets further and further removed from the gunshot wound he sustained last year, Robinson shows more and more of what he can do.
"Once he got it going, that's what the young man is capable of," Ron Rivera said after the game. "This is indicative of what he can be."
Robinson has been saying for months that he can do more than be a power back for the Commanders, although that will always be part of his skill set. He showed some of that in training camp, operating as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and putting moves on defenders in open space. He also looked stronger, more confident and quicker running between the tackles, which he said was partly because he didn't feel completely healthy at any point during his rookie year.
"That's night and day from then to now," Robinson said Aug. 28. "So, people should expect a lot of great things to come when you compare all the things I did while I was limping around all year last year."
So far, Robinson's predictions for himself have come true. Through two games, his 146 rushing yards are eighth in the league and second in the NFC East. He's rushed for 13 first downs, which leads the league for running backs, and he has the seventh best offensive grade for his position (74.9), according to Pro Football Focus.
And it's clear the Commanders trust Robinson to keep them on the field; his 37 carries are tied for fourth in the league.
"He is a heck of a player," Sam Howell said. "He has worked so hard. It was so much fun watching him run today. He did a good job. The offensive line did a good job. There were some holes for him to run through and he hit them. That is the type of player he is."
While Robinson's performance in Week 1 against the Cardinals was closer to what fans were accustomed to seeing from him -- he rushed for 59 yards on 19 carries with a longest run of seven yards -- what he did against the Broncos was a glimpse of what he can do when utilizing his full skill set. He was much more efficient against a defense that held Josh Jacobs to 48 yards, rushing for 87 yards and averaging 4.8 yards on 18 carries -- almost two yards better than his 3.1-yard average in Week 1.
The biggest difference for Robinson: having the patience to let his blocks develop before hitting a running lane.
"I think as he settled in and you saw it later on, he had a couple of really nice runs and you could see him be patient and then hit it and as he hit it, you could see the separation between the blockers and the creases were there," Rivera said.
Robinson and the Commanders saw the benefit of that in the second half. After getting just 13 yards on five carries in the first two quarters, Robinson carried the ball 13 times for 74 yards the rest of the way, and he seemed to improve with each attempt.
First, Robinson kickstarted the Commanders' opening drive of the third quarter with a five-yard run. Four plays later, Robinson cut behind a double team from Saahdiq Charles and Charles Leno Jr. for an 11-yard gain that set up the 30-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin.
Robinson didn't shy away from laying hits on defenders when necessary, either. On the first play that followed the interception by Emmanuel Forbes Jr., Robinson met three Broncos right at the first-down line and powered forward for another four yards. Earlier in the game, he plowed through the Broncos' defense on a two-point conversion to sneak the ball across the goal line to make the score 21-11.
Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders from their Week 2 matchup against the Denver Broncos. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Given that Washington only won by two points and had to prevent a two-point try by the Broncos at the end of regulation, that extra effort played a significant role in Washington coming away with a 2-0 record.
"He runs hard. He runs physical," Howell said. "He makes the defense feel it every single time he touches the ball. When you are in games like this, and it is kind of close toward the end, that is what you need. You need somebody like that. He is a killer when he gets the ball."
And there were some flashes of what he can do as a pass-catcher. Both of his receptions resulted in 21-yard pickups, the second of which put Washington at the Denver 34-yard line and helped set up his second rushing touchdown four plays later.
As long as he gets the ball in his hands, Robinson is eager to do whatever the team needs from him.
"Always feels good to make plays and help the team win," Robinson said. "I'll do whatever I got to do. However many runs or carries or catches, it don't matter. I just want to get the win."
The challenges for the Commanders are only going to get tougher from here. They play the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, both of whom boast physical defenses, in the next two weeks. Getting a win in one or both matchups would give more credence to Washington's assertions that it is a legitimate playoff contender.
Robinson's ascension provides Washington with one more weapon to counter two of the league's best teams.
"I know I got a lot more in the tank that I can show," Robinson said. "Like I said, taking those strides week in and week out. Eventually, it will be all out on display."