BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Jared Goff’s first regular season appearance in the Bay Area as a professional was a successful one as the former Cal quarterback looked sharp and poised during his appearance Thursday night against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
The Novato native who was the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft often looked like a deer in the headlights last year during his rookie season for the then recently transplanted Los Angeles Rams. Goff didn’t even dress or see his first game action until Week 11, and lost seven straight games to close out the season.
The subject of a blockbuster trade with the Tennessee Titans just months after the Rams had relocated from St. Louis, Goff was targeted as a franchise quarterback but was deemed not ready for prime time by then coach Jeff Fisher.
Returning for his sophomore season as a pro, his first under new Rams coach Sean McVay, Goff appears much more comfortable in his role this season, aided by both more experience learning the pro game along with some much needed offense weapons added in the off-season.
In Thursday’s 41-39 shootout victory over the Niners, Goff performed like a seasoned veteran as he completed 22 out of 28 passes for 292 yards. He also threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. Coupled with his breakout 21-29 performance with 306 yards passing in the Rams season opening blow out of the Colts, Goff’s first win in the NFL, he will enter the fourth week of the season having completed over 70% of his passes along with having the highest quarterback rating in the league.
Along with beefing up their offensive line by acquiring center John Sullivan and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth as free agents in the off-season, the Rams rebuilt their anemic 2016 offense by adding several new weapons for Goff. Veteran wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods provide experienced deep threats, and unheralded third round draft pick Cooper Kupp out of Eastern Washington has also been turning a lot of heads. Rookie tight end Josh Reynolds, a second round pick out of South Alabama, has also been quick to make an impressive debut.
The added protection up front has helped to protect Goff and give him more time to survey the field and take advantage of developing plays, as opposed to feeling the need to rush a pass or forcing him to scramble. It’s also helped allow running back Todd Gurley to return to the form he flashed in his brilliant 2015 rookie season when he gained over 1,100 yards in just 13 games, further helping to take the pressure off of the still developing quarterback.
After Thursday night’s victory, head coach McVay was effusive in his praise for Goff. “I’m really pleased with Jared tonight. I thought he made really great decisions with the football. You really look at what the 49ers defense had done coming into this game against two very good teams in Carolina and Seattle, I’m really impressed with them as a whole. I thought Jared managed the game extremely well, distributed to his playmakers and gave guys a chance down the field. You look at Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods both coming away with over 100 yards each. Those are the kinds of things we expect from him.”
As for Goff himself, he clearly wasn’t distracted or intimidated by the prime time national television audience or his return to Northern California. “It was fun. It was really good. Good win regardless of where it was. I think it was a great team win. It was fun, while playing in front of a lot of people I do know here. But regardless of that, I think it was a great team win. Don’t want to make it as close as we did. Finishing a win like that is big and it shows signs of a good team.”
As for his new offensive help, Goff stated “It was great. Those guys have been tremendous since they got here and to get a chance to see it come alive today was huge. Sammy on that deep ball, it was something we’ve worked on in practice for a long time now. For him to make that play is huge. There’s a reason we went and got him and that’s one of the main reasons. He’s a great player and I expect him to continue to do things like that. We don’t set any limit on ourselves. We just try to go out every day and execute. Continue to do what we do and continue to get better. There’s a lot of things we can improve on as well, but there’s no limits or expectations on ourselves. We’re just trying to continue to get better, continue to execute.”
Goff also couldn’t resist praising Gurley. “If we run the ball like that, we’re tough to beat, and when Todd’s on like that, and our O-line is blocking like they were today, we’re going to be tough to beat. It’s very comforting knowing that he can make a play after the catch. He’s a great player.”
As for his offensive line, he was equally unrestrained in his praise. “They have been really, really good. I think today was a good chance to see how good they are at the run game and the pass game, protecting really well all game. I think what Austin Blythe was able to do coming into the game, and John Sullivan is a guy we love and a guy that means a lot to us, and Austin was able to come in (after Sullivan’s injury), and make it fairly seamless and did a great job. Without his ability there, anything can happen. Injury’s happen all the time and without what he did there, who knows. He came in and stepped up and had a great day.”
The future looks bright for Goff. This time last season some were already projecting him as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history. It’s still early in the new season, but no one is saying anything like that now. The Rams have a tough October schedule coming up starting with a trip to Dallas next Sunday along with a cross country trip to Jacksonville two weeks later, in addition to home games against division opponents Seattle and Arizona, but they’ll enter the month in no worse than a tie for the lead in the NFC West.