Jared Goff is from Marin County, California, played college football at the University of California and was the 2016 No. 1 overall roster for the Los Angeles Rams, the franchise’s first roster upon returning to California.
On design night, his song of choice to shake hands with Roger Goodell was appropriately named “California Love” by 2Pac and Dr. Dre. No doubt Goff was convinced that he would find his NFL glory in a state where you never find an empty dance floor.
And he did, at least for a while. He led the Rams to the playoffs three times in his five seasons, including the Super Bowl loss to New England after the 2018 season. But in 2021, the Rams didn’t believe Goff was their best option at quarterback.
They sent their one-time franchise future and a bunch of draft picks to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, who promptly led them to a Super Bowl title. That meant last year Goff had to watch his old teammates become champions while stuck in a miserable three-win Lions team that was in the middle of another rebuild.
As the career script flips, this one could have turned into a bitter winter in the Midwest.
Everyone wants to say they would act like a pro. Everyone wants to think that they would still see the incredible opportunity to become an NFL starter. Everyone wants to believe that they would work just as hard, give just as much, or behave just as professionally.
Yet the reality is different. We’ve seen many careers crash under similar circumstances. Things got worse when the Lions started 1-6 and the talk turned to which college quarterback the Lions would draft to replace him.
Even the strongest mind could falter.
Well, that was all seven games, six wins and an improbable run to playoff contender status ago.
“It was a lot of fun,” Goff said.
That certainly holds true on Sunday, when Goff on fourth and the inch with 1:51 remaining hit Brock Wright’s tight end for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown to give Detroit a 20-17 victory over the New York Jets to deliver. The win pushed the Lions to 7-7 on the season and put them in prime position to challenge for a playoff spot no one saw coming.
As emotionally heavy as it must have been for Goff last year, there aren’t many quarterbacks in the league who are having it more fun right now.
There’s nothing better in football than winning the Super Bowl, and Goff will probably always wish he stayed with the Rams and won one. Life didn’t turn out that way.
Perhaps the second best experience in football is the euphoria of an unexpected winner on the rise, the magic and excitement and energy that comes with finding an identity and surpassing all reasonable expectations for a long-suffering fan base.
In other words, no one has had it better in the last two months than Jared Goff and the Lions.
“It’s nice to be on a team that wins games,” said Goff. “Of course I’m doing some good things, but we’ve won a lot of big games lately with the same guys who were part of the 1-6 and part of last season.”
It’s unlikely the on-field success would have been possible without the off-field dignity he showed since being jettisoned by the Rams.
Instead of pouting, he threw himself into improving, exuding positivity and taking charge of the team.
Rather than pining back to life on the West Coast, he planted his roots in Detroit—raising money through his JG16 Foundation, partnering with local education initiatives and grants, and donating some 40,000 pounds of food to charity kitchens. He has been nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Perhaps fans and media weren’t sure if Goff would be a Lion in the long run — and who knows, maybe not — but he never pretended he wouldn’t. If Detroit seemed like a relegation to others, it certainly never behaved that way.
Goff was asked last week if he never lashed out at his fate, his disappointment or his critics. He just mocked.
“What would I lash out at?” he asked.
“I really enjoy winning with these guys,” he said. “Whatever people said earlier this year, they were probably justified in some way. We were 1-6 and didn’t play very well. Now we’re playing pretty well. Everyone seems to have changed like us; we try to stay in the middle.”
Detroit has two first-round picks in the 2023 NFL draft, and the roster that arrives through the Rams could be in the top five. The long-held belief was that the Lions should use it for a potential franchise quarterback, but this draft may prove short of certainties at that position.
Goff has done his part to be not just a placeholder, but the potential future. He’s only 28, has two seasons left on his contract, and the idea of Detroit adding another elite defenseman – an Alabama Will Anderson or a Georgia Jalen Carter – to an improving unit anchored by rookie Aidan Hutchinson is rather appealing.
Those decisions will come.
Right now, Detroit is in a euphoric state, vying for a playoff spot that seemed hopeless in early November behind a quarterback who had been reeled by the Rams.
It wasn’t easy. This isn’t California.
However, in some ways, given the challenges, it might be even better.