So who needs playoff experience? Goff and the Rams are ready for the Falcons today

The Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry preview the Rams' NFC wild-card playoff against the Atlanta Falcons.

There will be some nervousness. It always has been part of the bargain, whether Jared Goff was starting a game in high school, college or the NFL.

So the Rams' second-year quarterback does not expect to feel differently Saturday, when he makes his first NFL postseason start against the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild-card playoff game at the Coliseum.


"It's more excitement and more anxiety and you want to get out there than true nervousness," Goff said. "You may have that little pit in your stomach at the beginning of the game, but it's no different than any other game for me, honestly.

"I feel the same way every week, and going to approach this one the same way."

Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, bounced back from his rookie struggles and helped lead the Rams to an 11-5 record and their first playoff appearance since 2004.

The Rams, the third seed, are playing a sixth-seeded Falcons team that is a year removed from a run to the Super Bowl.

Rams running back Todd Gurley is in the NFL most valuable player discussion, but no Ram will be on the spot more than Goff in the Rams' first NFL playoff game at the Coliseum since 1979.

Goff has passed for 28 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, but his experience pales compared to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, last season's league MVP who has played in eight postseason games.

Rams coach Sean McVay — making his postseason debut as the head man — said he was not concerned about Goff's lack of playoff experience, citing the 23-year-old's even-keeled demeanor and poise.

"Jared is fearless," McVay said, "and I think he looks at it as a great opportunity, and we trust that he's going to make good decisions. … But, in terms of worrying about, is the moment too big or [it's] the playoffs?

"That is the least of your concerns, just from having experienced what we have with Jared and kind of the way that he's wired, and that's why we feel like he's special."

Goff is not the only Rams player lacking NFL playoff experience. Only six players on the roster have played in postseason games.

But the Rams have played several "big" games this season, Goff said, citing road games against the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans, and home games against the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints.

"I think that experience will translate mostly to this game," he said.

This will be Goff's second game against the Falcons, although the circumstances are much different.

Last season, in his fourth NFL start, Goff was sacked three times and had two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, in a 42-14 loss at the Coliseum that proved to be Jeff Fisher's final game as Rams coach.


Asked if he had watched tape of that game, Goff said no.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn might have.

Goff, Quinn said, has made great strides from Year 1 to Year 2 under the tutelage of McVay, quarterbacks coach Greg Olson and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who was the Falcons' quarterbacks coach the previous two seasons.

"I knew he had arm talent, that was pretty clear, but now you see with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions, it's the decision-making, where to go, when to give it out to somebody else," Quinn said. "Those are the things that I've noticed."

Goff is not the only member of the NFL's highest scoring offense to be making his postseason debut. Key cogs Gurley and receivers Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp are among the others.

Woods, an All-American at USC, expects a "super-energetic, super-loud" crowd at the Coliseum.

"I've been telling guys, 'Just wait for a night game, wait for a night game,'" Woods said. "We finally got one, so I know the atmosphere is going to be crazy."

After asking Rams players midway through the season what it meant to be 6-2 in one word, The Times' Lindsey Thiry follows up asking them to do it again to describe finishing 11-5 and playoff football.

Rams linebacker Connor Barwin has played in five playoff games with the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles.

The postseason is "definitely different," he said, but "you don't want to change who you are" on the field,

"The game is a little bit faster, a little more intense, and every week through the playoffs it kind of picks up," Barwin said. "The game is more emotional, but it also almost slows down a little bit too because every play matters so much.

"That's why you need to be on the screws, focused, detail-oriented and not let your emotions get too much of you."

Linebacker Robert Quinn, a seventh-year pro, is taking a low-key approach to his first playoff game. Like any game, he said, the objective is the same: to win.

"I'm a simple country guy," he said. "I break it down. Keep it simple. … Just keep football, football and not make it more complicated."

But defensive lineman Aaron Donald, also making his playoff debut, acknowledged heightened anticipation.

"This is what you work for," he said. "This is what you grind for. This is what the offseason is for — you doing the extra reps to play in games like this.

"I'm pumped up. A lot of excitement going through my body, and everybody's body."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein