SANTA CLARA — Jared Goff returned home on Thursday. And this time the Rams actually gave him a uniform and let him play.
For which he rewarded them by plunging a knife into the heart of the San Francisco 49ers, the team he grew up rooting for growing up in the Bay Area, before anxiously watching the Rams defense deliver a gallant last-minute stand to preserve a wildly entertaining 41-39 win over their bitter division foes.
In the process, he sent a decisive message to a national television audience that he clearly isn’t the bust so many deemed him and the Rams are no longer the pushovers they’ve been for far too long.
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Goff’s redemption and the Rams’ resurgence are unquestionably linked. The second-year quarterback’s resurrection from the ashes of draft day blunder to an efficient, functional, sometimes dynamic NFL quarterback has breathed life into the Rams morbid offense and made them a team to be taken seriously.
All of which was on display Thursday when he completed 22 of 28 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
This is the same stadium, mind you, where Goff stood humbly on the sideline watching the Rams’ season opener last year. He was wearing a sweat suit rather than a uniform, the result of then Rams head coach Jeff Fisher banishing him to the inactive list rather than putting him on the active roster.
It was a humiliating way for the first overall pick in the 2016 draft to begin his NFL career, and a bit of an ominous one. Goff never quite recovered. By the time he actually got the nod as the starter, the Rams were playing out their season in body if not spirit, Goff was in woefully over his head, and with absolutely no help on the field or the sideline, Goff’s rookie season deteriorated into a nightmare.
The talk of bust and mistake and overrated soon turned into a chorus.
It was premature, of course. Goff was set up to fail last year. Not by design. No one set out to sabotage him. But the Rams’ lack of talent and the stubborn lip service Fisher paid to quarterback development and offensive imagination would have done in plenty of other quarterbacks, let alone a 21-year-old rookie making the transition from a college spread offense to the NFL.
“It’s rough being a rookie and being a starter. I know,” guard Rodger Saffold said. “It’s tough. Just to be able to go out there and lead your guys from the quarterback position is a rough journey.”
But what’s done is…