As much as Jared Goff would like to forget that bitterly cold night last December and how Richard Sherman punished him along the Rams sideline to send him tumbling out of bounds and out of the Rams Thursday night game against the Seahawks with a concussion, he can’t.
“Yeah, I remember it,” Goff said.
Maybe that’s a good thing. For everyone.
In some ways, the knockout blow Sherman delivered to Goff last year came to define everything Jeff Fisher did wrong in handling Goff’s rookie season. And how incredibly short the stubborn coach fell in creating the protective, supportive environment even a veteran quarterback needs to survive.
Let alone a first-year quarterback the Rams invested six draft picks into acquiring and one they were banking on becoming the face of their franchise.
Looking back now, nearly a full year later, with Goff developing into one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL and the Rams emerging as legitimate contender, it’s incredible to think how far they’ve traveled since last December and how astutely new head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead have constructed the safe surroundings from which Goff now operates.
Amazing what happens when stubbornness and mulishness and staleness is replaced by creativity and open-mindedness and vibrancy.
The latter of which McVay and his staff have injected in abundance in the way the Rams now build their roster, teach, develop, game plan and game manage.
Goff was never more alone or exposed than he was when he spun out of the pocket to escape the three Seattle pass rushers who immediately penetrated the Rams offensive line last December. Or how he vainly looked up field for open receivers – there were none – before taking off running down the sideline.
Abandoned. Forlorn. Unsafe.
The results were predictable and wince worthy.
All the result of Fisher’s bullheadedness, the lip service he paid to quarterback development and offense in general and his utter incompetence in building suitable infrastructure around Goff.
The Rams traded six picks to move to the top of the 2016 draft to pick Goff, yet with so much riding on his advancement, Fisher handed Goff and the offense over to career tight ends coach Rob Boras and inexperienced quarterback coach Chris Weinke while refusing to make any changes to improve a woeful offensive line and a mediocre group of wide receivers.
Fisher’s offensive indifference was shocking in retrospect. And it ended up costing Goff his rookie season, the Rams valuable time in re-connecting with the Los Angeles market and, ultimately, Fisher’s job.
Thankfully that was then and this is now.
When Goff takes the field Sunday against Sherman and the Seahawks, he’ll do so a changed man while leading a Rams team that’s undergone a remarkable transformation over the last year and won three of their first four games.
An offense that couldn’t muster more than 16 points per game last year is now averaging a league-leading 35.5.
Goff is protected by an offensive line that added All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan while being stabilized everywhere else.
He’s throwing to a staggeringly deep receivers group boosted by the additions of Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett. He’s working in an offense perfectly suited to accentuate his skill set, and the Rams have unleashed Todd Gurley in a way that’s made him a Player of the Year candidate. The Rams have even figured out a way to incorporate Tavon Austin as a legitimate threat.
Hanging in the balance today at the Coliseum is the stranglehold the Rams can take on the NFC West, a potential long-term changing of the guard at the top of the division and another powerful statement declaring Goff and the Rams for real.
The former is of pertinent interest to Goff.
“It’s been the goal since (Head Coach) Sean (McVay) and the new staff got here,” Goff said. “There’s been no wavering in that and we just continue to try to get better in the offseason and now into the season. And I’ll say it again, every day we come out here and there’s no external influence on anything. We come out and practice and try to just get better.”
The latter, not so much.
“It doesn’t matter what we’re considered by anybody. I think most of that is coming from most of you guys. I know it’s your job, but we’re focused day in and day out trying to get better,” Goff said. “That’s the only way we can. That’s the reason we are in the position we are today, is because we’re focused and the effort and everything we’ve had in practice. We need to continue that. It’s very early in the season, four games in. We’re happy with what we’ve done, but a lot of work to do and a long season ahead.”
And while Sherman will be lurking out there somewhere, you get the feeling he won’t be running free toward an abandoned, exposed Goff like he did last December.
Those days are long gone.
If not forgotten.