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.
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.
Rams Todd Gurley reaches for the end zone as he is tackled by Calvin Munson of the New York Giants.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Los Angeles Rams nose tackle Michael Brockers reacts during the second half.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams scores a touchdown as Nat Berhe of the New York Giants misses the tackle in the second quarter.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Robert Woods #17 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrates after scoring his second touchdown of the day.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
New York Giants’ Wayne Gallman flips over Los Angeles Rams’ Troy Hill (32) during the second half.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Los Angeles Rams running back Malcolm Brown rushes during the second half.(Bill Kostroun / AP)
Giants running back Orleans Darkwa is tackled by Tanzel Smart of the Los Angeles Rams.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Giants quarterback Eli Manning fumbles the ball on a sack by Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams in the first quarter.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Rams’ Todd Gurley is chased by Darian Thompson in the first quarter.(Al Bello / Getty Images)
Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff looks to pass during the first half as New York Giants’ Dalvin Tomlinson closes in.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams running back Todd Gurley rushes for a touchdown during the second half against the New York Giants.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff throws a pass to Tyler Higbee for a touchdown during the first half against the New York Giants.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams running back Todd Gurley evades defenders during the first half against the New York Giants.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee catches a pass for a touchdown in font of New York Giants Keenan Robinson.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins catches a pass in front of New York Giants Landon Collins during the first half. Watkins scored a touchdown on the play.(Bill Kostroun / AP)
Los Angeles Rams Mark Barron breaks up a pass to New York Giants Evan Engram.(Julio Cortez / AP)
Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams rushes for a touchdown after catching a pass in front of Nat Berhe of the New York Giants in the first half at MetLife Stadium.(Rob Carr / Getty Images)
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.
“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.
“We will have a little more excitement coming home now,” Goff said, adding, “Hopefully, we get that place rocking and come out with a W.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein