Jared Goff’s dream debut turns into nightmare – NFL.com

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LOS ANGELES — She was leaning over a railing atop the wide, well-worn tunnel leading from the L.A. Coliseum’s locker rooms to the corner of the west end zone, waiting for the chance to make a visual connection with her son before he took the field to thunderous applause, when Nancy Goff’s eyes got unmistakably moist.

Alas, she wasn’t tearing up: The moment Nancy’s son, Jared, had been dreaming about for most of his 22 years was about to arrive, but instead of being awash in sentiment and emotion, she was wiping away raindrops from her seemingly ageless face. It was an act Nancy — whose game-day attire included stylish aviator shades, a long, thin white sweater and white sandals — would perform over and over throughout a soggy Sunday afternoon in Southern California. Wash, rinse, repeat.

“It’s just so un-friggin-believable that it’s raining here, today, of all days,” Nancy said as she waited for Jared to appear a few minutes before kickoff, while standing a few yards from her and her family’s seats near the bottom of Section 10. “I mean, how is this happening? I just never thought that when this day came, it would be like this.”

It was Mother Nature 1, Mother Goff 0 — and by nightfall, she was on the wrong side of a more significant score. After utterly dominating the Miami Dolphins for 53 minutes, the Rams dropped a 14-10 decision in front of 83,483 fans, spoiling the promising but ultimately unfulfilling debut of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft.

While Goff’s future may be bright, the Rams’ newly installed quarterback of the present had a mood to match the dreary weather as he stood alone at his locker following Sunday’s stunning defeat.

“That was just brutal,” Goff told me, slapping his right hand against his knee for emphasis. “We had it. We let it slip away. And the worst part is, we did it to ourselves.”

He wasn’t lying: With the Rams (4-6) holding a 10-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter and Goff guiding them toward what looked like a potential game-clinching score, it appeared as though this was a heartwarming, made-for-television Tinseltown tale approaching its inevitably cheery ending. Instead, for Goff and the home team, a horror flick ensued.

Call it Nightmare At Exposition Park.

“Jared was everything we needed,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said as he stood in the hallway leading to the coaches’ locker room, a few minutes after completing his press conference. “His presence was great. His communication was great. He made reads and checks and got us in the right protections and had command of the run game. He slid in the pocket and he made throws. He was in control, and he knew it — it was no different than the way I was feeling.

“He didn’t lose it. Had the defense made a stop, we’d be in here smiling, and the story would have been, ‘Jared won the game for us.’ And up until the end, he thought he was gonna win this game, and so did I.”

Seven months after the Rams selected the former Cal star with the top pick, and five days after Fisher announced that Goff had supplanted placeholder Case Keenum as the starter, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the misty air as fans flocked to this aged stadium steeped in so much history. And nowhere was the anticipation greater than in Parking Lot 1, where a couple dozen of Goff’s family members (including father Jerry and big sister Lauren) and friends tailgated outside an RV, with pulled pork and California microbrews enhancing the festivities.

“I’m nervous, but I’m also very, very excited,” Nancy said. “The first few weeks, they were doing well, and I think Jared was fine sitting and watching. But the last few weeks, he’s been like, ‘I can’t wait’ — and now, the wait is finally over.”

Why now? Well, glad you asked. Four games into the season, the Rams — on the strength of a surprising, 17-13 road victory over the Arizona Cardinals — were 3-1, and Fisher felt no compulsion to rush his rookie into action. They then proceeded to lose their next four, with Keenum becoming increasingly unproductive.

Last Sunday, L.A. slogged out a 9-6 road victory over the New York Jets, marking the second time this season the Rams had managed to win a game without scoring a touchdown. By that point, Fisher was already convinced that the time had come to go with Goff, whose promise had compelled the franchise to swing a blockbuster deal with the Tennessee Titans allowing them to move up 14 spots in the draft.

“Look, he’s the future of the franchise, and we went up and drafted the kid for a reason,” one Rams source familiar with Fisher’s mindset said before Sunday’s game. “The offense needed a spark, and we’re not totally out of (playoff contention), so we might as well see what he’s got.

“There’ll probably be some moments where he makes throws that make you go, ‘Wow — I see why he’s the No. 1 pick.’ And there’ll be others where he looks like a rookie making his first start. But the bottom line is, what’s the worst thing that’s gonna happen? We don’t score a touchdown?”

After the game, during which Goff put up relatively pedestrian numbers (17 of 31, 134 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions) but was hardly overwhelmed by the moment, Fisher told me, “It was a progression. All the way through (the season), he grew. We saw it every week. And finally, we’d seen enough where I knew it was time.”

On Tuesday morning, Goff and Keenum were alone in a room watching game film at the team’s temporary training facility in Thousand Oaks when Fisher walked in and abruptly informed them, “I’m going to go with Jared this week,” explaining his reasoning over the next few minutes before departing. The situation could have been abundantly awkward, “but it really wasn’t,” Goff recalled, “because Case has been such a pro about this, and we’ve really been supportive of each other the whole time.”

Goff spent the next several days grinding as though it were finals week at Cal. “I called him Thursday night to check in,” Goff’s cousin, Kevin Mirchandani, said at the pregame tailgate. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m alone at the facility, just watching film.’ And that’s pretty much how it was all week. I’m anxious, but I’ve been watching him play since Pop Warner, and I’ve never seen a game be too big for him.”

Seconds later, as if scripted by a Hollywood screenwriter, it began to rain — and it was impossible not to think back to Goff’s freshman year at Cal, when he had such a miserable outing in a rain-drenched game at Oregon that he was pulled in the first quarter. In the months leading up to the draft, he addressed his can’t throw a wet ball stigma by shining in a private workout for the Rams in a Berkeley downpour and, at the end of his Pro Day throwing session, uncorking a football subjected to some squirts from a Gatorade bottle by Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.

“This isn’t even really rain,” Jerry Goff said hopefully as he stood in his seat in Section 10, near the southwest corner of the stadium, a few minutes before Sunday’s kickoff. “It shouldn’t make much of a difference to him. When I watched him spin it in pregame warmups, it really calmed me down.”

As the rainfall steadily increased, however, it became clear that both offenses were affected by the elements. In fairness to Goff, he seemed to handle the wet conditions at least as well as veteran Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose first 11 drives of the game ended with 10 punts and a third-quarter interception (one play after Miami had recovered a fumble by Rams tight end Lance Kendricks, who’d just caught a nice throw over the middle by Goff but subsequently lost his grip).

The Rams, meanwhile, punctuated their second drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by halfback Todd Gurley, one play after Goff’s crisp slant to receiver Kenny Britt that resulted in a 19-yard gain. Moments like that warmed a mother’s heart — even as Nancy Goff’s sandal-clad feet were subjected to an unanticipated stream of chilliness.

“We obviously didn’t see the rain coming,” Nancy said during a third-quarter TV timeout. Turning to her daughter, a UCLA graduate student who also spent her undergraduate years at the Westwood campus, she asked, “Lauren — during all the years you’ve lived here, how many days have been like this, where it just rains steadily?”

“Like today?” Lauren asked, laughing. “Maybe two. I mean, growing up in Northern California, we got days like this all the time, and sometimes I kind of miss them. But it would be great if I could just be curled up on my couch.”

Said Nancy: “You know what this is? It’s ‘The Goff Luck.'”

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