Jared Goff, Rams Clinch First Division Title Since 2003

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 24: Head Coach Sean McVay talks to Quarterback Jared Goff
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 24: Head Coach Sean McVay talks to Quarterback Jared Goff /

In his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback, Jared Goff has made it a season to remember for the Los Angeles Rams and their fans (as well as Cal football fans who have followed Goff’s career into the NFL).

The table was set following last Sunday’s trouncing of the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle had been the gatekeepers of the NFC West, appearing in the postseason five straight years entering 2017, and winning the division three times in that span. But when the final whistle blew on a 42-7 Rams’ blowout win over Seattle, the table was set for quarterback Jared Goff and company.

That got the Rams to within one win of clinching their division, and only the Tennessee Titans stood in their way. Tennessee, in their own battle for a spot in the postseason, gave Los Angeles their best fight, even taking a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter. But Goff and his crew buckled down, put together a strong drive, and Goff capped it off with a perfect fade pass to Cooper Kupp, who got his knee down in bounds for what became the game-winning score.

Goff, the former Cal football superstar who turned the team from a Pac-12 doormat to a Bowl team in three years, finished the day with four touchdown passes and no interceptions, competing 22 of his 38 attempts for 301 yards. It was fifth 300-yard game of his career, all coming this season, and fourth game of 2017 with at least three touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception for the ninth time this year.

The Rams had already clinched their first winning season since since 2003, when they were still the St. Louis Rams and finished 12-4 behind the strength of Marc Bulger and Marshall Faulk. Their last division crown also came in 2003, what followed was 13 years of futility. The “Los Angeles” Rams hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1989. All of those negative numbers were erased on Sunday.

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The Rams gave up a lot to get to this point. Ahead of the 2016 draft, they traded six picks to the Titans to move up to the first overall pick, in hopes of picking their franchise quarterback. They would take Goff and make him the second Cal quarterback to be taken number one overall, after Steve Bartkowski in 1975. They didn’t get much from Goff in his first season, as he was the backup to Case Keenum in the first nine games and looked overmatched during the final seven weeks.

With a meager offense and shoddy offensive line in front of him, Goff struggled mightily. He completed only 54.6 percent of his passes for less than 10 yards per completion, threw more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five), and was sacked on more than 11 percent of his dropbacks. Goff was under constant fire, and he didn’t have an answer.

This past offseason brought changes, and a lot of them. The Rams brought in a new head coach, making 31-year-old Sean McVay that youngest head coach in modern league history. The offense was rebuilt as well, bringing in a myriad of new weapons to put at Goff’s disposal.

They signed wide receiver Robert Woods, traded for receiver Sammie Watkins, and drafted Cooper Kupp and tight end Gerald Everett. They also fortified the line in front of Goff, signing three-time Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth to protect their 23-year-old’s blindside, and center John Sullivan to fortify the middle of the line.

All that work has paid off, and Goff has blossomed into a young star. His completion rate has gone up by eight percent, while his yards per completion is over three yards higher. He has a four-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio (28 scores, seven picks). His passer rating is 35 points higher than last season. His offensive line is allowing sacks at a rate less than half what it was last season.

The success of the passing game has also allowed running back Todd Gurley to flourish. The former 10th-overall pick from Georgia was sensational in 2015 as a rookie, gaining 1,106 yards and scoring 10 times in only 13 games. 2016 wasn’t a kind year for Gurley, much like the rest of the offense, as he gained only 885 yards in 16 games, scored six times, and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, second-worst among backs with at least 100 carries.  

This year, Gurley has become an MVP candidate as one of the NFL’s most dangerous all-around players. He went over 1,300 rushing yards in Sunday’s win, and surpassed 800 receiving yards. His 19 total touchdowns (13 rushing, six receiving) lead the NFL, as do his total yards from scrimmage.

In 2016, the Rams were dead last in the NFL points per game and total offense per game. They were 31st in both total rushing yards and total passing yards. This year, the numbers speak for themselves. They have the second-most potent scoring offense, and their balanced offense is ninth in total yards per game. They rank 11th in pass yards per game, and ninth in rush yards per game.

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On Christmas Eve in 2016, Goff stood in front of reporters and said “I promise you guys it will get fixed. I’ll give everything in my heart and soul to get it fixed”. Exactly one year later, the Rams have taken the first step to the ultimate goal. And it looks like they’re just getting started.