When Jared Goff was tasked with selecting his walk-out music for the 2016 NFL Draft, the choice was simple. He chose “California Love” by 2Pac and Dr. Dre, a nod to his home state, one where you never find a dance floor empty.
Goff was a high school star at Marin Catholic north of San Francisco and then at Cal in the East Bay. It was the Los Angeles Rams who drafted him first overall, and that’s where he played five seasons, including leading the team to the Super Bowl after the 2018 season (a 13-3 loss to New England).
California was Goff’s place and no doubt where he expected to spend his entire career and perhaps life.
Then he got traded to Detroit, shipped out by the Rams in favor of Matthew Stafford. Goff's old team won the Super Bowl in its first season without him, while the Lions started 4-16-1 in his first season and a half in Detroit. There was plenty of speculation the Lions would draft a replacement at season’s end.
Well, a has changed since then; maybe most interestingly is Goff leading Detroit back to where it all began — California in general, Levi's Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC championship more specifically.
The California Kid is back, with a new team, a new outlook and a new upswing in his career.
“It's nice to go back there in front of my friends and family and a lot of my loved ones and play in a place I've played a bunch of times,” Goff said. "It's going to be a challenge, but it’ll be fun for me personally, but it's about our team.”
A week ago, after the Lions bested Goff’s old team (the Rams) and his replacement (Stafford), Detroit head coach Dan Campbell tossed him a game ball and declared him “good enough for f***ing Detroit.”
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That redemption has been a popular storyline and a deserved one for Goff. He never bristled at being sent to a lowly team far from home. Instead, he applied himself to building the Lions into a playoff club.
Goff has completed 52 of 70 passes (74.3%) in these playoffs for 564 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers. He might not be as gifted as Stafford, but he makes big plays when needed.
In the second half of Sunday’s 31-23 divisional round victory over Tampa, Goff put together a brilliant, three-drive, three-touchdown, second-half stretch that busted the game open. He went 13-of-15 for 170 yards and a touchdown during that stretch.
“It’s the way he's made,” coach Dan Campbell said. “I think that’s one of those traits I believed he learned over time. I don’t know. Maybe his father, maybe it started there. Maybe his experience playing the game at a high level in big games. Understanding what is coming next. But he does do a great job at it.
“He does stay calm,” Campbell continued. “He does stay cool. He knows even if it feels a little rocky, it will smooth out. It will smooth out. It’s one of the reasons he had a fourth quarter like he did [Sunday]. He’ll stay in there. He’ll get in a rhythm. He’ll start finding some throws and get hot for us.”
One of the reasons Goff is so popular with his teammates, coaches and, of course, fans is because he rarely makes anything about himself. He carries himself with humility. He deflects praise. He’s content not being the story, even as he increasingly is the story.
Sunday saw Lions fans again serenade him before and during the game with deafening chants of his name: “Jar-ed Goff. Jar-ed Goff.”
If the chants in the wild-card round were as much directed at Stafford, telling their old star that Goff is now their guy, the ones Sunday against the Buccaneers were all about Goff himself. But even then, Goff tries to make it about someone else.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s really cool for me. I said last week it was something I would never experience again, and then I kind of experienced it again today. Those fans are special, near and dear to my heart. They mean a ton to me. The support.
“Not just for me [though], but the whole team.”
The whole team is pretty much the focus of Goff’s whole news conferences these days. Postgame Sunday, he praised by name nearly a dozen teammates, coaches and front-office personnel.
“He’s fought through a whole hell of a lot,” he said of center Frank Ragnow playing with injuries.
“It's been such a great group, and we’ve relied on them all year,” he said of the entire offensive line.
“They've been kind of waiting in the weeds for their chance,” he said of role players Craig Reynolds (touchdown) and Derrick Barnes (interception) who had huge moments. “Practice hard. And do everything right. They show up on time … happy for those guys. They deserve it.”
Goff even brought up defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn despite no one asking him about the defense. And then he praised the entire team.
“I think it's a credit to all the guys in [the locker room],” he said of everyone.
That’s Jared Goff right now. Maybe he wasn’t right for the Rams a few years ago, but he’s more than good enough for Detroit right now. And he’s heading back home with big intentions.
“I don’t want to say this arrogantly,” Goff said, “but we expected to win the first [playoff] game. We expected to win [Sunday's] game. And now we get to go to a game we expected to be in against a really good team at their place and are going to come into it expecting to win.”