With every pass he misfired and every third down he failed to convert, the truth gradually revealed itself.
Jared Goff wasn’t ready.
He wasn’t ready to deal with the complexity and unpredictability of the New England Patriots defense. He wasn’t ready when Brandin Cooks was wide open in the end zone midway through the third quarter, his delivery of the pass late enough to allow cornerback Jason McCourty to recover and break up a potential go-ahead touchdown. He wasn’t ready for the safety blitz that startled him into throwing a fourth-quarter pass off his back foot and into the hands of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, which ended any fantasy of the Rams reversing their deficit.
History will record Super Bowl LIII in definitive terms and what the account of the Rams’ 13-3 defeat to the Patriots on Sunday will show was that Goff was overwhelmed in his first, and possibly only, game on his sport’s greatest stage.
At only 24 years old and still in his third NFL season, Goff wasn’t ready. He wasn’t close to ready.
He completed only five passes in the first half. He finished 19 of 38 for 229 yards, answering in the affirmative the question of whether Rams, like deer, freeze in headlights.
“They were doing such a good job defensively mixing it up on us and we had a hard time moving the ball,” Goff said.
The game unfolding like this became a distinct possibility as it became clear something was wrong with star running back Todd Gurley, who experienced inflammation in the same left knee he had surgically repaired in college. The Rams claimed he was healthy, as did the player himself, but common sense indicated otherwise. He touched the ball only five times in the NFC championship game. After two weeks off, Gurley was limited to 11 touches in the Super Bowl, including three in the first half.
The Rams basically lost their greatest offensive threat and consequently lost their way, as the Patriots made a concerted effort to pressure the notoriously skittish Goff.
“I think we felt like if we stopped the run and put it into his hands, it played in our advantage,” Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said.
Sean McVay, the whiz kid coach who transformed a Rams offense that was stuck in the Stone Age under predecessor Jeff Fisher, did what he could to cover for his quarterback.
“I think the biggest thing is that the play selection didn’t give him much of a chance,” McVay said.
McVay neglected to mention how the inaccuracy of Goff’s passes and his inability to remain composed when pressured didn’t give him much of a chance, either. The Rams set a Super Bowl record by punting on eight consecutive possessions.
“For an offense like we know we’re capable of being, for them to do what they did to us is so impressive,” Goff said. “We tip our cap to them. At the same time, we left so much out there on the field. That’s so hard to take right now and I’m mad at myself.”
The only reason the Rams were in the game was because of their defense. Even with Goff passing for only 52 yards in the first two quarters, the Rams trailed by only a 3-0 margin at halftime.
On their second possession of the third quarter, the Rams advanced into Patriots territory. Taking a snap at the 29-yard line, Goff look downfield to find Cooks uncovered in the end zone.
“I was kind of surprised he was that wide open,” Goff said. “I tried to get it to him as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, it was too late.”
McCourty prevented Cooks from catching the ball and the Rams settled for a field goal that tied the score 3-3 with 2:11 left in the quarter.
With some trademark late-game magic from Tom Brady, the Patriots scored a touchdown to move in front 10-3 with seven minutes remaining in the game. Goff responded by marching the Rams to the Patriots 27-yard line, from where he lofted a perfectly weighted ball to an end zone-bound Cooks, only to have the pass broken up by safety Duron Harmon.
Harmon blitzed on the next play, causing Goff to deliver a rushed pass in the direction of Cooks. Gilmore intercepted the pass at the four-yard line, an image destined to be preserved in infamy until the Rams win a Super Bowl.
“That’s my fault,” Goff said. “It was a bad decision by me.”
Even in defeat, Goff remains the centerpiece of this franchise. He was drafted first overall shortly after the Rams moved back to Los Angeles. His precocity was a crucial part of the team’s success this season. Because he is still on a rookie contract, the Rams had the financial flexibility to add several veterans with established track records.
This game could be a “Tragic Johnson” moment, a crushing defeat that drives Goff as failure in the 1984 NBA Finals did Magic Johnson. Or not.
The Rams watched how Goff recovered from a winless rookie season, how he has risen every time he has absorbed a paralyzing hit. They believe he will learn from this.
“I think it would be important for him to respond the right way, which, knowing the kid, I know he will,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “Jared is going to be a special football player.”
Sunday night, he was an emotionally distraught player.
“It is the toughest loss I have ever had,” Goff said. “It kills. It is terrible. There are some good things you can take from it, but, right now, there is nothing. I wish I would have played better.”