The biggest game of Jared Goff’s life began with a scramble.
Before going on the field for his first series, in the deafening cacophony of the Superdome, the Rams quarterback realized the coach-to-quarterback earpiece was on the fritz. He couldn’t get the plays. So he swapped helmets with backup quarterback Sean Mannion, also fitted with an earpiece, and ran out to face the New Orleans Saints.
While the equipment staff worked frantically on his helmet, Goff cupped his hands over his earholes, trying to hear his coach. The Saints showed that on the video board, which only encouraged the crowd to scream louder. When he finally got his helmet back on the next series, he had to tape over the earholes for any prayer of hearing coach Sean McVay.
In the wake of a 26-23 upset Sunday that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl, let the record show: Goff lost his helmet but not his head.
“It was disorienting loud, but we fought through it,” Goff said. “It wasn’t loud enough, I guess.”
Three years into his NFL career, one that began with an 0-7 starting slide as a rookie, Goff has the Rams four quarters away from the second Lombardi Trophy in Los Angeles history, one to match the feat of the L.A. Raiders 35 years ago.
Goff completed 25 of 40 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown, with an interception that glanced off the hands of Todd Gurley. The Saints’ Drew Brees, sure to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, had one more completion than Goff — 26 of 40 — for 249 yards and two touchdowns.
Goff, 24, was the “other guy” in this final-four cluster of quarterbacks. Even though he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and made back-to-back Pro Bowls the last two years, Goff ran a distant fourth in the eyes of many to Tom Brady, Brees and Patrick Mahomes, the likely most valuable player.
“We’re sure glad he’s our quarterback, we have a lot of belief in him,” McVay said of Goff. “When you look at the trajectory of his career, what he’s done over the last two years since our coaching staff has had a chance to work with him, we feel like he’s certainly been one of the best quarterbacks in this league. And I wouldn’t want anyone else leading our football team.”
The Rams are fine with that assessment. They’re headed to the Super Bowl, their ears still ringing from the Superdome. Goff had to get so close to his teammates in the huddle, they had to touch facemasks with the quarterback so they could hear him.
“We were almost in a piano formation, where you had one guy low, another guy high, another guy low, and he’d go down the line,” guard Rodger Saffold said.
Goff showed against the Saints what he has displayed throughout the season: uncommon poise under intense pressure. It showed in the final two minutes of the first half, when he threaded a 17-yard completion to Brandin Cooks on third and 10, then dropped the ball into a bucket on the next play, a 36-yard completion to Cooks that set up the Rams’ first touchdown.
It showed in the fourth quarter, too, when he started the tying field-goal drive at the Rams nine, as the decibel count climbed like the temperature in Dubai, and squeezed in throws for gains of 39 and 33 yards.
Then there was the toss for 16 yards to Robert Woods on third and three to set up another tying kick by Greg Zuerlein at the end of regulation …
The 12-yard throw to Tyler Higbee to cross midfield in overtime and set the stage for Zuerlein’s game-winner …
“The performance was amazing,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “To beat Drew Brees in this arena, this is one special place to play. … He’s just a special kid. I’ve said it since we came to training camp, and really since the day I met him.
“I told my wife before the playoffs started, this was the first year that it really wasn’t about me. I honestly felt like I was more nervous for these playoffs because I believe in Jared Goff. I believe that he deserves to win, and I just want to be right about that.”
This is the dream scenario the Rams envisioned for themselves, and for Goff, when they flew to Berkeley to work him out before the 2016 draft. It rained that day, and they gave Goff the opportunity to postpone the workout. No, he told them, he wanted to throw.
“The great thing about Jared, and Sean talks about it all the time, is he never blinks,” said Kevin Demoff, Rams chief operating officer. “He had let Cal from 1-11 to a bowl game a couple of years later. You saw that confidence that he could take over a program.
“I remember having some long chats with Jared — and certainly he had them with Les [Snead, the general manager] as well, where he said, ‘I know what this looks like. I know how to turn around this team. I’ve been part of it. We did it at Cal. We’re not that far.’ ”
Goff knew what it looked like. And Sunday, as that winning kick sailed through the uprights of the silenced Superdome, he knew what it sounded like, too.