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In winnable revenge game, Jared Goff showed exactly why the Rams dealt him to Lions for Matthew Stafford

·Columnist
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Jared Goff had a chance. He’s always had a chance though.

He had a chance when he was drafted No. 1 overall and later teamed up with a creative offensive coach, Sean McVay, for a fresh start franchise, the Los Angeles Rams. He had a chance when Brandin Cooks was wide open in the end zone of Super Bowl LIII. He had a chance when he got a four-year, $134 million extension.

None of those chances ever really worked out, the same way this one wouldn’t either.

Goff, now a Detroit Lion, had a fleeting chance to show up his old team and old coach. His Lions were driving late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead and win the game.

Except on second-and-10 from the Rams' 12-yard line, with the Lions controlling momentum and the Rams' defense tiring, Goff telegraphed a pass and in the face of pressure released off his back foot. It was an easy pick for his old teammate, Jalen Ramsey. One series later, he threw another pick.

Los Angeles 28, Detroit 19.

It was, well, it was some quintessential Jared Goff.

Pretty good at times. Even brilliant on occasion. In the end though, the big plays went awry and his team fell short. The defense played well. The running game came on in the second half. The coach was aggressive – an onside kick and two faked punts. Everyone wanted to defeat Matthew Stafford, the star the Lions sent to L.A. for three draft picks (and Goff).

Mainly they wanted to defeat anyone.

“Yeah, if we win this one maybe there is a little more special meaning but we need a win, we still need a win,” said Goff, who went 22-of-36 for 268 yards and a touchdown. “Unfortunately, we are 0-7.”

On the flip side, it all turned up for Stafford. Trailing the Lions 19-17 late in the third quarter, he led two scoring drives – a 10-play, 90-yarder for a touchdown and a nine-play, 43-yarder for a field goal – to pull out the win. He did that a lot in Detroit, too.

The pressure on Stafford was almost all self-inflicted. He didn’t want the humiliation of losing to his old teammates, let alone a winless team. Even if he did, he’d move on. The Rams are 6-1. He’s thrown 19 TDs. He has weapons all over the place. No one in L.A. would regret that trade. He’s the one who gives the Rams a Super Bowl shot.

The Lions were the Lions, nothing but a memory. He was here, in Southern California, unlikely to be spending time dreaming about who they used to be.

It’s still early for Stafford, of course. To prove himself, he still needs to win games that need to be won, games in January or even February. He and the Rams look plenty capable of that, but until it’s done, it isn’t done.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 24: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams talks to former teammates during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at SoFi Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams talks to former teammates during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

He never won a playoff game in Detroit. Never won a division crown. At least some of that was on him. Still, while losing to the Lions would have been embarrassing – in part because no one (literally) loses to the Lions – it was mostly just a game against some familiar laundry.

This was a bizarro matchup of two franchise quarterbacks playing for each other’s franchise’s, like a Disney mixup movie. Each was a No. 1 overall draft pick. Yet one is good and one isn’t. One has a future and one, who knows.

As smooth and sunny as things have been for Stafford, Goff looks like a journeyman who somehow stumbled into being a No. 1 draft selection and a nine-figure extension. He has thrown eight touchdowns and six interceptions this season. Was he ever any good?

“I don’t care what you guys say of the roster, we have guys that fight,” Goff said, sticking up for his teammates.

That’s fine, but even team owner Sheila Ford Hamp, who barely admits to anything, admitted to the Detroit Free Press: “This year, it’s a rebuild. It’s painful.”

During his time in L.A., some in the Goff camp would bristle at the weekly pendulum swings of credit given. When the Rams won, it was because McVay drew up a brilliant game plan. When the Rams lost, it was because of Goff’s shortcomings.

At the time, it felt like reality was certainly somewhere in the middle. Maybe less so now. There isn’t much of an argument left for Goff.

He isn’t the worst quarterback in the NFL, but Lions fans have begun calling into sports talk radio about giving backup David Blough a chance, or maybe signing Cam Newton.

Not that Detroit is regretting its decision to deal Stafford to the Rams.

The Lions probably wouldn’t be winless right now with No. 9 behind center, but they weren’t going anywhere big either way. The Bob Quinn-Matt Patricia era squandered a good roster and three seasons of Stafford’s prime, and left a smoking crater of a lineup that no one could win with. It’s back to square one.

Detroit got a 2021 third-rounder and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 for Stafford. Goff was a throw-in. If anything, the Lions should have made a second trade and dumped Goff off to a quarterback-desperate team and gotten something – maybe a third-round pick? – in return.

Let someone else find out if he could play.

It doesn’t look like he can, at least not at a high level. Everyone says he is a nice guy, a positive guy, a coachable guy. He’s a great teammate. Everyone likes him, you could see that in the hugs he got from both teams afterward – sympathy from some, support from others.

“We did some pretty special things here in my five years here,” Goff said. “It's something I’m really proud of.”

He should be. L.A. was a dream. It’s just a dream Stafford is living now. Jared Goff had to board a flight back to Detroit, where 0-7 is reality.

And it hasn’t even snowed. Yet.

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