Down 13-0 in the NFC championship game two Sundays ago, inside the deafening New Orleans Superdome, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff brought the huddle together, and got facemask-to-facemask with his offensive linemen. At one-time labeled a bust, the guy with small hands and a too-slender frame who began his NFL career 0-7 as a starter got some base in his voice.
“He just said, ‘Hey! Everybody shut up. I’ll get you guys into the right places. This is my show. I’ve got it,’” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told the NFL Network’s Mike Silver last week. “First time I’ve ever heard him do that … and you know what? Everybody listened.”
Despite the noise, radio problems that forced Goff to use backup Sean Mannion’s helmet, an incessant defense and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees opposing him, Goff took command. He led the Rams to a tie in regulation, and then, with a pair of tacklers on him and defensive end Cam Jordan in his face, he hit a miracle throw to tight end Tyler Higbee to set up the game-winning 57-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.
Goff’s former teammates and coaches during his formative years in the Bay Area weren’t surprised Goff came up with that miraculous throw, or an over-the-shoulder bomb he threw to Brandin Cooks to set up the Rams’ first touchdown, or that he engineered the 26-23 overtime win that has him readying to face fellow Bay Area native Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. From his development at Marin Catholic to his brutal learning curve in Berkeley, Goff has always been a calm, steady competitor, just like the man whose number he wears: Joe Montana.
“Some quarterbacks can say a million words and yell and rah rah, but Jared on the other hand, can just simply put a hand on your shoulder and say, ‘It’s time to go,’” said Ray Hudson, Goff’s former tight end and roommate for two years at Cal, who was watching the game from home. “It means the same exact thing as the quarterback who would say a bunch of stuff. That’s just how he is, the respect he’s earned.”
Hudson was on the field on Nov. 28, 2015, as Goff and the Bears were down 46-45, standing at their own 22-yard line with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter against Arizona State, in Goff’s final home game at California Memorial Stadium — where he spent childhood Saturdays in the fall cheering for the Golden Bears from Section DD. Goff put his hand on Hudson’s shoulder pad.
“It’s time to go,” he told Hudson.
Goff brought the huddle together, and calmly told the rest of the Bears that this was the two-minute drill. They’d done this before. They’d practiced this. “Get the ball down,” he said. “I’ll get the ball to you, you get the ball to the ref and get lined up again.”
Goff completed 3-of-4 passes for 45 yards to get kicker Matt Anderson in range for a 26-yard game-winning field goal, sealing a win in his final home game.
Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, Goff’s OC with the Bears, saw something familiar, too. Franklin, who will be at the game this Sunday in Atlanta, sent Goff a text the night before the game against New Orleans. He reminded him of that Arizona State game, along with one earlier that season, against Washington, and a 60-59 win in 2014 against Washington State.
“I just reminded him, I said, ‘You willed us to victory. You just said we weren’t going to lose. You willed us to win all those games,’” Franklin said. “‘Just do the same thing.’”
Against the Huskies in 2015, the Bears faced one of the best defenses in the country — and certainly in the Pac-12 — while contending with up-and-coming Jake Browning, considered one of the best young quarterbacks in college football at the time. Cal had fourth-and-four, and led by six after the Huskies had used their final time out with 60 seconds to go.
“He went into the huddle, brought everybody in, and just calmly said, ‘We’re going to get this, right here,’” Hudson said.
Goff — who had taken 29 sacks as a freshman and 22 more as a sophomore — checked the play away from a run by Tre Watson in favor of a quarterback run to the left. He bounced off a would-be tackler and dove forward, taking licks from two more defenders, but pushing them forward for a gain of five yards and a first down, sealing the game.
“He pretty much did exactly what he did in the game two weeks ago,” Hudson said, referring to the divisional-round game against the Dallas Cowboys. “You’re looking at it from the sideline, and you’re thinking, ‘This guy’s going to get blown up,’ and all of the sudden, he lowers his shoulder and ends up getting two more yards.”
“He’s tough as hell,” said Franklin. “That’s the one thing he doesn’t get as much credit for: He’s a tough son of a bitch.”
While at Cal, Goff joked that he got his height from his father — former Major League catcher Jerry — but his metabolism from his mother, Nancy. His high school head coach, Mazi Moayed, remembers the first thing he thought when he saw Goff throw in a freshman game: “Man, he’s skinny.” The second thing? “This kid’s special.”
“Initially, it was, ‘This guy’s got some serious potential. Let’s see how he progresses,’” Moayed said last week. “You could see he’s special, but you don’t know what’s inside, between the ears.”
After waiting his turn behind all-league quarterback Chris Tewhill, Goff came on in relief in the first game of his junior year, and engineered a comeback win over St. Ignatius. He started the next 14 games, winning 12 straight before losing to Moraga-Campolindo in the Division III North Coast Section final.
A year later, after committing to Cal, his parents’ alma mater, and seeing head coach Jeff Tedford fired, Goff made another trip to the NCS title game, this time at Pinole High School, against an El Cerrito team stocked with Power 5 talent.
“That was one of the more challenging games, because it was coming down like a monsoon in Hawaii,” Moayed said. “The rain was coming down in sheets.”
Goff didn’t throw the ball much that game, but he earned Moayed’s nickname for him — Greyhound — by running for 77 yards.
With 11:32 left, and the teams tied at 21, Goff took the ball himself, pressed the right B gap, found nothing, leaked outside and sprinted 30 yards up the far sideline to give the Wildcats a 28-21 lead. After the Gauchos tied the game up, Goff led Marin Catholic on another drive to set up a game-winning 27-yard field goal with 22.2 seconds left.
“I don’t care if you’re a 250-pound quarterback or a 225-pound quarterback; it’s what’s on the inside that keeps you going,” Moayed said. “That’s what he’s got … He wanted to crush guys. He looks smooth and harmless on the outside, but he wants to dice you up on the inside.”
When Goff was a rookie, he faced incessant comparisons to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, and the quarterback taken immediately after him in Carson Wentz. They were succeeding; so, why couldn’t he, as the No. 1 overall pick, fix the Rams? Goff had gone through that miserable 1-11 freshman season in college. He knew what it was like to take the blame, and he did it quietly.
Goff would tell Moayed, and Hudson, between when Jeff Fisher was fired and Sean McVay was hired, “You know man, it’s going to be a big offseason, we’ve got all the pieces, we can put it together and we’re going to bounce back.” Those were the same words Goff had told Hudson after a rain-soaked, fumble-filled loss to Oregon at Autzen Stadium his freshman year that saw him taken out of the game — the low point of his football life.
“It’s the same thing he does everywhere he goes, no matter whether it’s Marin Catholic or Cal or with the Rams,” said Hudson, who will be wearing an Under Armour Cal jersey with Goff’s name and number on the back this Sunday in Atlanta. “He just settles in, figures out what he has, he adapts to the situation, he doesn’t get low, he doesn’t get beaten down by any criticism or by anything that anyone says. He doesn’t listen to anything that anybody says. He just does what he needs to do.”