SANTA CLARA, Calif. — She had a skinny margarita in her hand and a knot in her stomach, a familiar feeling intensified by the circumstances. As Nancy Goff sat at a Mexican restaurant near Levi’s Stadium on Thursday afternoon and stole a quiet moment with her husband, Jerry, as they entertained a group of fellow Northern Californians, the mother of the Los Angeles Rams’ starting quarterback was conspicuously nervous about his nationally televised Bay Area homecoming.
“I’m always bad on game day, and this might be a little worse than usual,” Nancy said. “Night game, playing the 49ers, all these people we know here to see him… I mean, I think Jared will do great… but it’s always stressful.”
Three hours later, Jared Goff went out and summoned a tour de force performance that put his parents at ease — and did the same for Rams fans everywhere, and for the legions of skeptics who dogged him after a trying rookie season.
Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, showed a Thursday Night Football audience exactly why the Rams gave up so much to get him. The second-year quarterback from nearby Cal completed 22-of-28 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns and led the Rams (2-1) to a thrilling, 41-39 victory over the 49ers, an outcome that wasn’t secure until star defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s fourth-down sack of San Francisco quarterback Brian Hoyer to extinguish a furious Niners comeback with 1:44 to go.
“That was scary,” Goff said afterward in a private conversation at his locker. “But man was it fun. There’s something about being back in the Bay Area that gets me going. Honestly, it felt like we were in Berkeley — scoring all the time and needing to score some more. They kept coming at us. I thought I was gonna have to go out and score one more time to win it.”
That wasn’t necessary, thanks to a squelched two-point conversion with 2:17 to go and the subsequent defensive stand following a successful San Francisco onside kick. What Goff did do was continue to win over many of the cynics who wrote him off during his miserable rookie season, when he struggled behind an ineffective offensive line and in an oft-criticized scheme that helped provoke head coach Jeff Fisher’s dismissal.
The Rams proceeded to hire the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, then-30-year-old Sean McVay. And the former Washington offensive coordinator has made an immediate and emphatic impact in L.A., with Goff as the most obvious beneficiary.
“Sean is so good,” Goff said. “I love this offense. We had 78 plays sent in, I think, and there was maybe one of his calls I didn’t like. He gives me so many answers. I’m loving it.”
After Goff’s near-flawless effort in front of 70,178 fans at Levi’s — and after two throws in particular — the affection was decidedly mutual.
“This was his best performance yet,” McVay told me as he sat in the coaches’ dressing area of the visitors’ locker room. “Especially after last week (a 27-20 defeat to Washington), when he threw that late interception — he just bounced back and came up huge in crunch time. You know what I like about him? In games, he does not f—- flinch. He’s mentally tough, in good times and bad, and that’s exactly what you want your quarterback to be like. Because it’s an occupational hazard: Bad things are gonna happen when you play this position.”
The first of the two plays that blew away McVay was a gorgeous 47-yard pass to Sammy Watkins on the first drive of the second half, which ended with a Greg Zuerlein field goal that pushed the Rams’ lead to 27-13. Goff, after selling a nice play-fake to halfback Todd Gurley (28 carries, 113 yards, two touchdowns; five receptions, 36 yards, one TD), lofted a rainbow toward the left sideline that fell into Watkins’ arms, eluding Niners defensive backs Dontae Johnson and Jimmie Ward.
“It was a run-pass option,” McVay said. “It takes stones to throw the ball there.”
The second play, a third-and-10 checkdown to Gurley with 10:57 left in the game, was a testament to Goff’s brains.
“He got all the way through the progression and found Todd on the backside,” McVay said of Goff. “It was basically his fifth read. That’s impressive.”
After getting the first down, Gurley broke a tackle and ended up with a 27-yard gain, putting the ball at the San Francisco 19. Two plays later, Goff found Watkins (six catches, 106 yards, two TDs) underneath for a 13-yard score, increasing the Rams’ lead to 41-26.
“Great night for Jared,” McVay said. “and I think he’s only gonna get better and better.”
And on this night, as she and Jerry drove 75 miles north to their home in nearby Novato, Nancy Goff felt much better than she had in the hours before the game.
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.
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