A divisional-round playoff game is still more than a week away, but Rams quarterback Jared Goff is already under scrutiny.
Will he play better than he did last season in a wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons? Will the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft take the next step?
Goff said Wednesday that he learned from last season’s 26-13 defeat to the Falcons, the first postseason game for him, most teammates and coach Sean McVay.
Goff completed 24 of 45 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown in the loss at the Coliseum.
“It was a game that I would've liked to play better, we would’ve all liked to play better,” Goff said after practice. “Ended not the way we would’ve liked it to.
“Hopefully, we can use some of those experiences as a positive and move forward with them.”
Goff, 24, rebounded from the playoff defeat with a Pro Bowl season. He passed for 32 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. After some late-season struggles, he finished with efficient games against the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, cellar-dwellers of the NFC West.
The victories helped the Rams earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs behind the New Orleans Saints, and also a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs.
On Jan. 12 at the Coliseum, the Rams will play either the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks or Dallas Cowboys, depending on outcomes of this weekend’s wild-card round games.
The fourth-seeded Cowboys play host to the fifth-seeded Seahawks on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The third-seeded Bears play host to the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Rams will play the highest-seeded remaining team.
Goff has not finalized his weekend plans, but the wild-card games are must-see TV.
“Sit on my couch and watch them,” he said.
Goff had success this season in two victories over the Seahawks.
On Oct. 7, he completed 23 of 32 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions, in a 33-31 victory at CenturyLink Field. He also executed a critical quarterback sneak for a first down on fourth-and-one with less than two minutes left.
Five weeks later, he completed 28 of 39 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns, without an interception, in a 36-31 victory at the Coliseum.
“Happy with the way the Seattle games went,” he said.
The Dec. 9 game against the Bears was a different story. With temperatures in the 20s, Goff completed only 20 of 44 passes, with four interceptions, in a 15-6 defeat at Soldier Field.
Goff said he would welcome a chance to play the Bears again.
“You always want to play a team that you lost to, that you wanted to play better against to get another chance at them,” he said.
The Rams did not play the Cowboys this season.
But in 2017, Goff completed 21 of 36 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-30 victory over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium that included a team-record seven field goals by Greg Zuerlein.
“Whoever it is,” Goff said, naming each of the possible playoff opponents, “we’ll be ready.”
Goff “never gets too high, never gets too low,” and remains consistent in his demeanor, McVay said. So the quarterback’s reaction to last season’s playoff loss was no different.
“He knows that there’s some things that we can all learn from,” McVay said, “that when we get an opportunity in those settings, in those situations again, we expect to be better.”
Goff helped make the Rams an early Super Bowl favorite by playing well through the first 11 games. He then struggled in a victory against the Detroit Lions and in defeats to the Bears and Eagles before rebounding with strong performances against the Cardinals and 49ers.
“The last couple weeks specifically, he’s done an outstanding job just playing within himself and distributing the ball, getting a variety of play-makers involved,” McVay said.
Now Goff will get another playoff opportunity, with a game of postseason experience to draw from.
“The more experience you have in those situations,” he said, “the better you are.”