The man who needed to stand tallest ended the last meaningful moments on his hands and knees.
The quarterback who had the game in his right hand watched the football stripped, then stolen, then rumbled downfield into a late afternoon sun that scorched hot upon a stunned team and its battered leader.
Jared Goff could have saved the underwhelming and unfocused Rams on Sunday, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. He wasn’t sharp enough. He wasn’t consistent enough. He wasn’t good enough.
That the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ shocking 55-40 victory at the Coliseum ended with former Ram Ndamukong Suh carrying a Goff fumble 37 yards for a touchdown while Goff remained motionless on the midfield grass was completely awful and perfectly fitting.
The Rams have been officially stripped of any notion that this is last year’s squad, and Goff’s progress as a potential championship quarterback has once again been sacked.
“I’ve got to be better,” he said afterward, and he’s right.
He furiously dug the team out of several holes, but only after bulldozing those craters in the first place. He brilliantly threw his team to the edge of several comebacks, but then foolishly threw those chances away.
His passing line was a career high in three categories, with 45 completions in 68 attempts for 517 yards. But, those glories were gutted with three interceptions, a lost fumble, two missed open receivers potentially on their way to touchdowns, and a giant stumble at the finish line.
”A lot of good stuff to build on,” said Goff, who also threw two touchdown passes. “And a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff to clean up.”
Yes, Goff was under constant pressure from a furious Bucs pass rush that overwhelmed a shaky-again offensive line. And, once again, his coach Sean McVay did him no favors by quickly and completely giving up on the running game. And certainly, 106 yards of penalties really made life difficult
But no matter, Goff was given a rich contract this month for a reason. He was given a $134 million extension with $110 million guaranteed — the most in league history — to overcome the sort of obstacles that would fell ordinary men.
He needs to be special when nobody else is special. He needs to be great when the Rams need great. On Sunday, he needed to be like, well, the opposing quarterback who is playing this season for a similar contract extension and threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns. He needed to be as money as Jameis Winston.
“Frustrating for sure, frustrating for sure,” Goff said. “It is frustrating and it is something we do need to get fixed, quickly.”
Throw out the numbers for him, and it was last season’s Super Bowl. Add it to his previous three games in this 3-1 season, and it’s become this year’s biggest Rams fear.
If Goff can’t get it done, the Rams won’t get it done. If not Goff, then who?
This is no longer mysterious knee guy Todd Gurley’s team. He carried the ball just five times Sunday, if you can believe that. This team is also not going to win consistently with its defense, witness how completely it was dominated by a Bucs offense that still nearly gave the game away.
No, this season is about Goff, it has to be about Goff, and they will not survive unless he stops doing the sorts of things he did in the second quarter with the Bucs still leading only 7-0.
After leading the Rams to the Bucs’ 30-yard line, Goff was hit as he threw a screen pass that was picked off by Jordan Whitehead, leading to a second Bucs touchdown on a three-yard pass from Winston to Chris Godwin.
Three Rams offensive plays later, Goff threw the ball directly into the hands of linebacker Lavonte David for another interception, and one play later the deflated Rams defense allowed another Bucs touchdown on a nine-yard pass from Winston to Godwin.
The inability of Goff to handle the pass rush and make good decisions led the Rams into a 21-0 deficit from which they never recovered.
“It was terrible, super frustrating,” Aqib Talib said about the game in general. “You don’t want to lose like that. Nobody wants to lose, period, but you definitely don’t want to lose like that. It started early and went all the way through the game.”
Goff led them back with scoring drives that pulled the margin to within one score on three occasions. He even went 11 for 15 for 123 yards in one three-scoring drive stretch.
But he made a bigger mark with his failures.
He overthrew a wide-open Gerald Everett on a seemingly certain touchdown route the first drive of the second half, then missed Brandin Cooks on another potential touchdown on the next drive.
It was on that second possession, with the Rams trailing by 11, that Goff hurried and threw his third interception on fourth-and-two from the Bucs’ 40-yard line, the ball swiped by Shaquil Barrett.
“We did have guys open that I’d like to have back, some of the stuff I missed down the field,” Goff said. “Ultimately we need to execute better on offense and I need to execute better personally. I will and we will.”
About three clock minutes after that pick, the Bucs had driven back downfield and scored on a 13-yard pass from Winston to Cameron Brate to deflate the Rams again. And so it went.
“I think there was a lot of really good things,” McVay said of Goff, adding, “There’s going to be a lot of things we can go back and look at.”
After Marcus Peters’ pick-six gave the Rams a final gasp, Goff could have cleaned it all up in the final minutes when, trailing 48-40, he moved the team into Bucs territory.
But figuratively and literally, he couldn’t hold on. Barrett hit him, the ball went tumbling, Suh picked it up, and one thundering sprint later, the game was over.
“I think it’s really a wakeup call for everybody,” McVay said. “Utlimately it’s about finding a way to win football games.”
When it ended, while most other players walked off leisurely and helmetless, Goff exited the Coliseum field in a sprint, not bothering to even remove his helmet, staring straight ahead amid the sound of celebrating Bucs fans in the distance.
He’ll run back on a field for a game in just four days in Seattle, where Sunday’s words of accountability will ring ever true.
Jared Goff is exactly right. He has stuff to clean up. A lot, a lot, a lot.