To borrow a line from roughed-up Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Jared Goff-led Rams posed a question Thursday night to Los Angeles:
You like that?
These undefeated Rams, who two years ago were unquestionably the NFL’s most boring team, are now the most explosive. On Thursday, they beat Cousins and the Vikings 38-31, bumping their astronomical scoring average to 35 points.
Imagine, all that hand-wringing about the franchise spending so many picks on Goff that the receiver cupboard would be bare for a generation. Well, Goff threw for 465 yards and five touchdowns against a good Vikings defense, with Cooper Kupp (162), Brandin Cooks (116) and Robert Woods (101) each reeling in more than 100 yards in catches.
Todd Gurley is a centerpiece of this offense, yes, but the passing game is not predicated on any particular player. It’s Goff throwing to the open man, the way Tom Brady has done to historic results in New England for so many years, never flinching at the rotating cast of receivers.
The NFL doesn’t like having teams cross two time zones for a Thursday night game, reasoning that’s too far to travel on such a short week. But this was a special occasion, the debut of Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” package, and it begged for a marquee matchup. The Vikings manhandled the Rams 24-7 in Minnesota last season, so this promised to be an excellent rematch.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was at the game, and said afterward it was just the type of event the league had hoped for when it approved the Rams’ return three years ago. “When we get to the new stadium,” he said, “it will be a whole new level.”
That $3-billion venue won’t be until 2020, but it seems these Rams are running an offense that’s ahead of its time. Just as the Vikings passed through two time zones, so did Goff, who averaged a staggering 14.1 yards per completion.
He looks increasingly at ease in this offense, throwing for four touchdowns in the first half. Goff’s four touchdown passes were the most in a first half by a Rams quarterback since Kurt Warner did it in 1999.
“That’s been the consistent evolution of Jared from Pop Warner through high school through college and now in the NFL,” said his father, Jerry, before the game. “He comes in and figures it out.”
Sean McVay is more than last season’s NFL coach of the year, he’s the quintessential Goffensive coordinator, drawing up plays that allow his third-year quarterback to pick apart opponents with surgical precision. It’s as if Goff sees the game unfolding from a press-box angle, comfortably dropping back and finding the open receiver most every time.
Couple Goff’s accuracy and McVay’s schemes, and the Vikings were downright befuddled sometimes. Like when linebacker Anthony Barr found himself matched up with Kupp, who ran under a Goff rainbow and never broke stride on a 70-yard touchdown play. Or when the Rams put three tight ends on the field, and Goff threaded a 31-yard scoring pass to Woods, who was covered by a linebacker.
“Everything we put into the week, I think it shows when we come to play,” Woods said. “We find ways to get an edge on our opponent and run away from them.”
It was reminiscent of those “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams that dazzled St. Louis almost 20 years ago.
“How could it not be reminiscent?” said Warner, the Hall of Fame quarterback who directed that offense and was working Thursday’s game as an NFL Network analyst. “It was so much fun. The beautiful thing is how they play, the way they attack down the field, which is so much different than what you see from other teams.”
One of the cruel ironies of the Rams leaving Southern California in 1995 is they became a true L.A. team only when they moved to St. Louis. That’s when they were the NFL’s answer to the Showtime Lakers.
Well, that’s what they are now, at least through the first quarter of the season.
“I wasn’t alive [for those Lakers teams],” said a smiling Goff, born in 1994. “But it feels good. The crowd was amazing tonight. For myself, seeing that grow from that first year until now, seeing a Thursday night when there’s so much traffic and everyone’s here, waving those towels. It’s a true home-field advantage. Feels good.”
He likes that.