July 30, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘TNF’ game vs. Patriots could be gauge of Jared Goff’s growth

The week leading up to Super Bowl LIII was an overwhelmingly positive experience for Rams quarterback Jared Goff.

He was in his second season running coach Sean McVay’s system and led an offense that ranked among the best in the NFL. He had earned a second straight invitation to the Pro Bowl, and he was making a case for an early contract extension, one that would eventually net him a guaranteed $110 million.

Then, of course, veteran New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff devised a game plan that flummoxed McVay and discombobulated Goff. The Rams lost 13-3.

Memories? Goff has a few.

“Not very many good ones,” he said this week.

But there was something positive.

“Being there and being able to soak it all in and having that experience, for not only myself, but our team, as far as when we do get a chance to get back there, being able to handle that the way we want to,” Goff said.

After missing the playoffs last season, the Rams are 8-4, in first place in the NFC West and positioned for a return to the postseason.

On Thursday night, Goff and McVay will get the opportunity to show if they’ve grown from their Super Bowl experience when they play the Patriots at SoFi Stadium.

A late regular-season game, in an abbreviated week, against a 6-6 Patriots team with much different personnel than two seasons ago is not the same as facing Belichick in a Super Bowl. This is not a Redemption Bowl.

But the six-man front, the blitzes and the coverage schemes that the Patriots — and the Chicago Bears before them — employed to perplex the Rams are no longer a mystery. Several opponents since have attempted similar schemes.

“It’ll be good to see what they want to do,” Goff said of the Patriots. “I mean, I think we’re at a point now where we’ve seen a little bit of stuff this year and have good plans for kind of everything.”

Jared Goff reacts after throwing an interception during the second half of Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots on Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.

(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Five weeks ago in Miami, it was like Super Bowl revisited for the Rams. Dolphins coach Brian Flores, the Patriots’ former linebackers coach, utilized many of the same concepts. The result: Goff and the Rams wilted in a turnover-plagued 28-17 defeat.

But Goff performed better, at times, in similar situations against the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

McVay said the scheme “doesn’t feel like an outlier” for the Rams.

“Sometimes we’ve handled it well and sometimes not so much,” McVay said. “It doesn’t feel as foreign anymore. … But they mix it up as well as anybody. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that.”

Goff has passed for 17 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.

After committing 10 turnovers in the previous four games, Goff played without major error in last Sunday’s 38-28 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He passed for 351 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a touchdown as the Rams regained first place in the division.

Belichick has faced the Rams twice with Goff at quarterback. In 2016, Goff’s rookie season under former coach Jeff Fisher, the Patriots won 26-10. In the Super Bowl two years later, the Patriots held the Rams to what remains as their lowest point total in 60 regular-season and four playoff games under McVay.

This season, Goff engineered a fourth-quarter drive for a game-winning field goal to beat the Buccaneers and former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“Played in and won a lot of big games, like the Tampa game,” Belichick said of Goff. “You can tell his overall awareness and decision-making, handling the offense, he’s pretty comfortable doing that.

“So, he helps them in a lot of ways.”

Having less than a week to prepare for the Patriots could work in Goff’s favor. He enjoyed some of his best performances in Thursday night games against the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and the Minnesota Vikings in 2018.

With four games left in the season, McVay just wants Goff to continue playing in error-free fashion like he did against the Cardinals.

“Consistency is the biggest thing,” McVay said. “I know it’s like a broken record, but it is the truth.”