The phrase developed into a familiar refrain from Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
Each week of the last month seemed to begin and end with Goff repeating what sounded like a mantra:
“I need to be better.”
On Sunday, Goff finally delivered.
He passed for 424 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals 34-7 before 60,944 at State Farm Stadium.
“I was definitely better,” Goff said during a postgame news conference. “We all were.”
The Rams amassed a season-high 549 yards and nearly posted a shutout en route to a victory that improved their record to 7-5, keeping alive playoff possibilities.
“The reality is we needed a game like this — especially after the drubbing we took last week,” linebacker Clay Matthews said.
Matthews was referring to the Baltimore Ravens’ 45-6 rout of the Rams at the Coliseum, a game that put McVay, Goff and the defense under fire and had the Rams teetering on the verge of elimination from postseason contention.
The Rams have four games remaining and probably need to win all of them to be in contention for a third consecutive playoff berth.
Next Sunday, they play the Seattle Seahawks at the Coliseum. Road games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys precede the finale at home against the Cardinals.
The NFC West-leading 49ers are 10-2 after losing to the Ravens on Sunday. The Seahawks (9-2) host the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) on Monday night — and the Rams could use some help from division rival Seattle as they attempt to catch Minnesota in the race for an NFC wild-card spot.
But a run to the playoffs almost certainly will not happen unless Goff continues to perform as he did Sunday.
Goff had not passed for a touchdown since an Oct. 27 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium in London. The three-game drought was the longest of Goff’s NFL career.
But Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee for a touchdown in the second quarter and wide receiver Cooper Kupp in the third.
Goff completed 24 of 31 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown in the first half as the Rams took a 20-0 lead. He finished 32 for 43 before he was replaced by Blake Bortles midway through the fourth quarter.
Goff’s 424 yards passing were the third most in his career. He passed for 517 yards in a Sept. 29 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 465 yards in a 2018 victory over Minnesota.
“It was great game for Jared, but that was the game we expect from him,” coach Sean McVay said. “Those are things we know that he’s capable of.”
Goff’s big performance came with a caveat: The Cardinals were ranked second to last in the NFL in total defense and last in pass defense.
But it was still a much-needed confidence boost for Goff, who has performed well below the level that earned him two consecutive Pro Bowl selections. In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Goff said he did not feel extra pressure to live up to the $134-million extension he received before the season, once again invoking that he needed to be better.
Goff recaptured some of his previous form by relying heavily on Higbee and receiver Robert Woods. Higbee caught seven passes for 107 yards, both career bests. Woods tied a career best with 13 receptions for a career-high 172 yards.
Goff escaped pressure a few times and delivered passes for big gains. On one play, he passed to Woods on the left side and then became the lead blocker as Woods cut back across the field and turned up the right sideline for a 48-yard gain.
“He does it all,” Woods said. “He runs, he throws, he blocks.”
Goff said he has been in position to block before but had never had the opportunity to hit a defender. This time, cornerback Patrick Peterson was in his sights.
“Had it been someone other than a defensive back, I don’t what I would have done,” Goff said. “Patrick’s not a small dude, but I just tried to get in his way a little bit … and Rob did the rest.”
Rookie safety Taylor Rapp provided the highlight-reel play for the defense when he intercepted a pass by Arizona rookie Kyler Murray and returned his first career interception for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
The Rams limited the Cardinals to 198 yards and sacked Murray six times. The No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft completed 19 of 34 passes for 163 yards with the interception and rushed for 28 yards in four carries, including a fourth-quarter touchdown, as the Cardinals fell to 3-8-1.
Was it the most lopsided game he has played in?
“This season, yeah,” Murray said. “Or in my life probably.”
Many Rams players felt that way after the Ravens embarrassed them on “Monday Night Football.”
But once again they have life.
“They came out and looked like a team that had been to the Super Bowl 10 months ago,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
The Rams still have a very slim chance to return, but it is now a week-to-week proposition.
Sunday’s performance offered a glimmer of hope for a team that dominated for much of the previous two seasons under McVay.
“We had some rocky times in the past few weeks,” Goff said. “For us to come out and play the way we did, feel the way we did and just come out and get that confidence back and that feeling back that we’ve felt for the majority of time with Sean — it’s great.”