The steps were quick, but also long and decisive.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff took them after faking a hand-off and turning his back on the action unfolding beyond the line of scrimmage in the drizzly mist at MetLife Stadium.
Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, had progressed this season from what some regarded as a mistake to an efficient but unspectacular conductor of the Rams’ multidimensional offense. But before Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, he hadn’t shown the ability to air out a long completion with touch.
This time Goff turned, confidently set his feet and unleashed a pass that traveled more than 60 yards before receiver Sammy Watkins caught it in stride on his way to the end zone.
The long touchdown showed just how far the Goff and the Rams have come under first-year coach Sean McVay.
Their 51-17 victory before a significantly-smaller-than announced crowd of 76,877 improved the Rams’ record to 6-2 at the season’s midpoint and cemented their status as a playoff contender. The Rams took a one-game lead atop the NFC West because Seattle lost at home, allowing Washington to come back for a 17-14 victory.
Goff passed for a career-best four touchdowns, the defense forced three turnovers and special teams came up with big plays as the Rams scored more than 40 points for the third time this season.
“The number one thing you can judge a quarterback on is wins and losses,” Goff said. “And right now we’re 6-2, so I feel good.”
So do McVay and the rest of his players, who are in the hunt for the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2004.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo last week described them as “the red-hot Rams.” They lived up their billing by scoring the most points the Giants had surrendered at home since 1964.
Early in the season, veteran Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers was apprehensive about labeling the Rams a playoff contender. But the evidence is mounting. The Rams finished the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record. They repeated the feat in the second quarter.
“I love where this team is right now because we’re 6-2, and we … know we can get better,” Brockers said.
Said veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold: “We know where we’ve been, and this is giving, at least the older guys, the experience to be like, ‘Hey, we can’t take our foot off the gas pedal.’ ”
The Rams have proved formidable away from home: Sunday’s victory was their fifth this season without a defeat. They return to the Coliseum to play their first game there in a month next week against the Houston Texans.
The last time Rams fans saw their team play at home, the Rams scored only one touchdown in a 16-10 defeat to the Seahawks on Oct. 8. Since then, they have defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-10, shut out the Arizona Cardinals in London 33-0, and trounced the Giants.
Goff played well at times during the first five victories, but Sunday’s performance was his best. He completed 14 of 22 passes for a career-high 311 yards. He connected on scoring plays of 67 yards to Watkins, 52 and four yards to Robert Woods and eight yards to Tyler Higbee. Four of his completions covered 44 yards or more, and the 52-yarder to Woods came on third and 33.
The Rams led 27-10 at halftime and pulled away on two touchdown runs by Todd Gurley and Goff’s second touchdown pass to Woods.
The defense, coming off its first shutout since 2014, again imposed its will and demonstrated its grasp of Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. Lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Alec Ogletree forced fumbles and cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted a pass. Linebacker Cory Littleton also blocked a punt as the Rams blew open a game that was tied, 7-7, after the first quarter.
But the play that stood out was Goff’s touchdown pass to Watkins, the speedy wideout who had been all but forgotten after a spectacular Week 3 performance against San Francisco.
Goff said when the ball left his hand, he thought he had put too much on it. But Watkins, running that particular route in a game for the first time, hauled it in for his only catch of the game.
“We feel like we’ve been trying to hit that for a long time,” Goff said. “First of hopefully many with him.”
After the game, the Rams packed up and headed to the airport. The next time they play it will be in front of fans no doubt curious to see if the Rams look as sharp in person as they have on television.