Can Jared Goff pass a play­off test? Bye gives Rams time

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Sports - BY GARY KLEIN

A divi­sional-round play­off game is still more than a week away, but Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff is al­ready un­der scru­tiny.

Will he play bet­ter than he did last sea­son in a wild-card loss to the At­lanta Fal­cons? Will the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft take the next step?

Goff said Wed­nes­day that he learned from last sea­son’s 26-13 de­feat to the Fal­cons, the first post­sea­son game for him, most team­mates and coach Sean McVay.

Goff com­pleted 24 of 45 passes for 259 yards and a touch­down in the loss at the Coli­seum.

“It was a game that I would’ve liked to play bet­ter, we would’ve all liked to play bet­ter,” Goff said af­ter prac­tice. “Ended not the way we would’ve liked it to. Hope­fully, we can use some of those ex­pe­ri­ences as a pos­i­tive and move for­ward with them.”

Goff, 24, re­bounded from the play­off de­feat with a Pro Bowl sea­son. He passed for 32 touch­downs, with 12 in­ter­cep­tions. Af­ter some late­sea­son strug­gles, he fin­ished with ef­fi­cient games against the Ari­zona Car­di­nals and the San Fran­cisco 49ers, cel­lar-dwellers of the NFC West.

The vic­to­ries helped the Rams earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC play­offs be­hind the New Or­leans Saints, and also a bye through the wild-card round of the play­offs.

On Jan. 12 at the Coli­seum, the Rams will play ei­ther the Chicago Bears, Seat­tle Sea­hawks or Dal­las Cow­boys, de­pend­ing on out­comes of this weekend’s wild-card round games.

The fourth-seeded Cow­boys play host to the fifth­seeded Sea­hawks on Satur­day at AT&T Sta­dium in Ar­ling­ton, Texas. The third-seeded Bears play host to the sixth-seeded Philadel­phia Ea­gles on Sun­day at Chicago’s Sol­dier Field. The Rams will play the high­est-seeded re­main­ing team.

Goff has not fi­nal­ized his weekend plans, but the wild-card games are must­see TV.

“Sit on my couch and watch them,” he said.

Goff had suc­cess this sea­son in two vic­to­ries over the Sea­hawks.

On Oct. 7, he com­pleted 23 of 32 passes for 321 yards and a touch­down, with two in­ter­cep­tions, in a 33-31 vic­tory at Cen­tu­ryLink Field. He also ex­e­cuted a crit­i­cal quar­ter­back sneak for a first down on fourth-and-one with less than two min-

utes left.

Five weeks later, he com­pleted 28 of 39 passes for 318 yards and two touch­downs, with­out an in­ter­cep­tion, in a 36-31 vic­tory at the Coli­seum.

“Happy with the way the Seat­tle games went,” he said.

The Dec. 9 game against the Bears was a dif­fer­ent story. With tem­per­a­tures in the 20s, Goff com­pleted only 20 of 44 passes, with four in­ter­cep­tions, in a 15-6 de­feat at Sol­dier Field. Goff said he would wel­come a chance to play the Bears again.

“You al­ways want to play a team that you lost to, that you wanted to play bet­ter against to get an­other chance at them,” he said.

The Rams did not play the Cow­boys this sea­son.

But in 2017, Goff com­pleted 21 of 36 passes for 255 yards and two touch­downs in a 35-30 vic­tory over the Cow­boys at AT&T Sta­dium that in­cluded a team-record seven field goals by Greg Zuer­lein.

“Who­ever it is,” Goff said, nam­ing each of the pos­si­ble play­off op­po­nents, “we’ll be ready.”

Goff “never gets too high, never gets too low,” and re­mains con­sis­tent in his de­meanor, McVay said. So the quar­ter­back’s re­ac­tion to last sea­son’s play­off loss was no dif­fer­ent.

“He knows that there’s some things that we can all learn from,” McVay said, “that when we get an op­por­tu­nity in those set­tings, in those sit­u­a­tions again, we ex­pect to be bet­ter.”

Goff helped make the Rams an early Su­per Bowl fa­vorite by play­ing well through the first 11 games. He then strug­gled in a vic­tory against the Detroit Lions and in de­feats to the Bears and Ea­gles be­fore re­bound­ing with strong per­for­mances against the Car­di­nals and 49ers.

“The last cou­ple weeks specif­i­cally, he’s done an out­stand­ing job just play­ing within him­self and dis­tribut­ing the ball, get­ting a va­ri­ety of play­mak­ers in­volved,” McVay said.

Now Goff will get an­other play­off op­por­tu­nity, with a game of post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence to draw from.

“The more ex­pe­ri­ence you have in those sit­u­a­tions,” he said, “the bet­ter you are.”

MARK J. TERRILL AP

Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff passes dur­ing the sec­ond half of last Sun­day’s game against the San Fran­cisco 49ers in Los An­ge­les. The Rams have a first-round bye.

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