A year ago on Christmas Eve, Jared Goff stood at the Coliseum podium after another wrenching loss and made a pledge.
The Rams had just been beaten by the San Francisco 49ers to fall to 4-11, and their then-rookie quarterback told reporters that he needed to be better because, ultimately, “it comes back to the quarterback every time.”
The struggling No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft said he intended to do “everything in my heart and soul to get it all fixed.”
"Every day in practice I need to be better and every day on Sundays I need to be better,” he said. “I promise everyone out there, all of the Rams fans, that I'm going to do everything I can, everything in me, to make that happen and get this thing fixed."
Goff did not know at the time that less than a month later the Rams would hire offense-minded whiz kid Sean McVay as their coach. That they would sign veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth to drastically improve the offensive line. Or that they would upgrade their receiver corps with Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp.
All have helped Goff make good on his promise.
His vastly improved play has helped the Rams forge a 10-4 record heading into Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Rams are in first place in the NFC West and with a victory can clinch their first division title since 2003.
Goff, 23, has passed for 3,503 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He leads an offense that is tied for first in the NFL in scoring and features rejuvenated running back Todd Gurley, a potential most-valuable-player candidate.
Goff last week was voted a first alternate for the Pro Bowl. And with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz sidelined because of a season-ending knee injury suffered against the Rams, Goff is on track to participate if the Rams are not playing in the Super Bowl.
“It’s something I’m very honored by,” Goff said of the Pro Bowl recognition, “but not necessarily something I’m going to hang my hat on.
“There’s a lot bigger things I want to do as a team and personally.”
The Eagles are seeded No. 1, the Minnesota Vikings No. 2 for the NFC playoffs. The Rams can win their division and earn a home playoff game with a victory over the Titans, the team that helped deliver Goff to the Rams.
“Awesome,” Goff said this week when reminded of the connection.
The Titans originally held the first pick in the 2016 draft. But after having selected Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 pick the year before, they were not in the market for a quarterback
The Rams traded the Titans multiple picks in the 2016 and 2017 drafts for the opportunity to move up 14 spots and select Goff.
Goff struggled last season, going 0-7 as the starter, but he has rebounded dramatically.
“It’s tough on rookie quarterbacks; I’ve been around a couple of them,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “It’s the toughest situation to be put in for anybody.
“But, obviously what they’re doing there is playing to his strengths.”
Goff sensed that his second season could be markedly improved after the Rams hired McVay. There were more hints during offseason workouts and training camp. And the Rams opened the season with a 46-9 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.
“We came out and lit it up pretty good offensively,” Goff noted. “I said, ‘OK, we can do this.’ ”
Goff said his improvement was, in part, because of the natural development that occurs from the first year to the second year at every level of football.
“The first season is learning a lot, and then the second season starts to settle down and it continues to go that way as time goes on,” he said.
“I don’t know if a lot of people would be able to respond to that adversity that he faced in Year 1,” LaFleur said. “Then, to come back and have a season like this — I think that’s pretty remarkable.”
McVay has praised Goff for his even-keeled nature and ability to weather adverse situations. And for his skill distributing the ball to the Rams’ playmakers.
“You want to see your quarterback take great command, great leadership, kind of have a total understanding and be that extension of the coaching staff,” McVay said, “and I think that’s definitely what he’s become.”
During the run-up to Sunday’s game, McVay and Rams players broke slightly from their one-game-at-a-time mantra and acknowledged what was at stake: a division title and the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2004.
“It is there for us to take this week and that is definitely something we know, but I don’t think it changes our approach or preparation or anything,” Goff said, adding that if the Rams clinch the division, “That’s just the beginning of our journey, and hopefully a lot more football after that.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein