Before Thursday night, Jared Goff could walk down most streets in America – even certain places in LA – and not be recognised.
But his five-touchdown display for the Los Angeles Rams against Minnesota, on primetime television, ended part one of a scarcely believable tale that had started in frankly comical fashion.
La-La land has seen its fair share of box-office flops, but no blockbuster in recent history bombed quite like the Rams did upon the NFL’s return to Los Angeles two years ago.
LA had been without a team of its own for a couple of decades – and had gotten along just fine. Many of its residents had either pledged allegiance to another franchise or the myriad distractions that a global city fringed by a sandy coastline has to offer. The Rams, then, had to somehow stand out among the stardust.
That was never going to be easy. In St Louis the Rams had become the definition of mediocrity and ‘7-9’ – a reference to the most average of season records – was the punchline every time moustachioed head coach Jeff Fisher’s name was brought up.
How much of a dinosaur is Jeff Fisher? pic.twitter.com/4ICGr8lnB9— thehojo (@thehojo) September 28, 2018
Bizarrely Fisher was to remain in the director’s seat for another season, but the LA-bound franchise knew they needed a potential A-Lister to usher in the new era. Which is why they scooted up to the top of the draft and selected California-born quarterback Jared Goff.
The plan was for Goff to sit out the entirety of 2016 and learn the ropes – though from whom he was supposed to learn them off, given the cluelessness of the offensive staff, remains a mystery.
The early signs in Hard Knocks, a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows an NFL team throughout training camp, were discouraging to say the least.
In a now infamous segment, Goff was caught not knowing from which direction the sun rose. For any other 21-year-old it was a mere show of naivety, but from your new franchise signal-caller? It wasn’t the best first impression.
Throughout the series Goff seemed a little too ‘California cool’, so laidback he may as well have been horizontal, lolling on a surfboard. On the surface, the intensity the Rams so desperately needed to kick-start their LA legacy was lacking in their would-be saviour.
Unsurprisingly the ensuing season was grim. Goff was thrown in for the last seven games and not even the Rams’ dismal scheme could excuse much of his poor play. An average of five yards per pass attempt, an 18.9 quarterback rating, more interceptions (7) thrown than touchdowns (5) – historic lows in most contexts.
Enter, stage right Sean McVay. The then 31-year-old wunderkind, who had passed his audition as offensive coordinator of Washington, ripped up the original script and chucked it in the trash where it belonged.
McVay, simply put, knows how to hand his offence advantages across the field. Creating mismatches, getting his skill players into space, confusing defenders as to his intentions. Goff couldn’t help but improve in year two and he did so dramatically, posting a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio and helping the Rams get back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
Still, there was the sense that McVay was the puppet master and Goff, rather than striking out on his own, was having his strings pulled by his genius of a coach. A ‘system’ quarterback whose numbers are inflated because of the fortunate situation he finds himself in.
Anyone who watched events unfold at the Coliseum on Thursday night will know, if that was ever the case, it certainly isn’t now.
McVay is putting the ball in the hands of Goff more than ever in year two of his reign. Running back Todd Gurley was the centrepiece last season, but this is the Year of Jared.
Once upon a time, any throw Goff would unleash carried a stench of an interception. This year he’s sniffing out the tightest of windows.
Against the Chargers last week in the so-called ‘Battle of LA’, Goff somehow picked out Robert Woods in double coverage for a toe tapper on the sideline.
He unleashed an even more outrageous throw to hit Cooper Kupp in the end zone against the Vikings. Rolling out to the right, he landed it on a dime in the corner – and Kupp didn’t have to break stride despite having two defenders draped upon him.
Those elite-level throws were missing on a consistent basis from Goff’s game up until now. But no ‘system’ can teach how to perform feats such as those. Besides, he’s now proved he can wring every last yard out of a system that is doing one thing – winning.
In fact, he’s beginning to look Super Bowl-winning.
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