Jared Goff has been in a Super Bowl and has a $134M deal. Yet, he has most to gain in face-off vs. Rams, Matthew Stafford

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The 2021 NFL schedule is peppered with games where a former franchise quarterback faces, and even visits, their old team.

Tom Brady at New England. Cam Newton at Carolina. Matthew Stafford against Detroit. Sam Darnold vs. the New York Jets.

Then there is this: Oct. 24 when Jared Goff leads his new team, the Lions, back to Los Angeles to take on his old team, the Rams, the franchise he led to the Super Bowl three seasons ago.

It certainly won’t be the most hyped of these kinds of matchups. Goff will even be overshadowed in this game by the man he was traded for — Stafford, who is going against a Detroit team he quarterbacked for a dozen seasons.

For Goff though, the game offers more than a chance to serve the Rams some how-do-you-like-me-now for a single week or suggest they made a mistake in trading him. It’s to show he’s a bonafide NFL starter at all. This whole season is.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, front left, meets with Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Jared Goff, front left, and Matthew Stafford, pictured in 2018, traded places this past winter. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Lions could have spent the seventh overall pick in last month’s draft on a new QB. Justin Fields and Mac Jones were sitting there for the taking. Instead, Detroit drafted offensive lineman Penei Sewell, who should help Goff with pass protection and an improved run game.

"I think it’s a nice vote of confidence, obviously for me," Goff said afterward.

He could probably use it.

The Rams made Goff the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, but seemingly from the start there were doubts that this was their true franchise guy. He put together some great games and strong seasons, but often when the Rams won, fans and media credited head coach Sean McVay’s gameplan.

When they lost, it was on Goff.

Perhaps everything would be different if late in the third quarter in that Super Bowl against New England in 2019, Goff had thrown a pass a split second earlier to a wide open Brandin Cooks. It was an easy score that would have put the Rams up 7-3 on a Patriots team that was struggling to move the ball.

Instead the pass came just late enough for a hustling Jason McCourty to break it up. New England went on to win, 13-3.

By the time the 2020 season came, despite Goff shaking off an injury to help the Rams beat Seattle in a wild-card game, McVay, et al, were looking for an upgrade. They believe they found one in Stafford, who has immense talent but never won much of anything in Detroit because, the Rams presume, of the chronic dysfunction in Detroit.

They were willing to send Goff and two first-round draft picks to find out.

Now Goff, a Marin County native who played at the University of California and spent five seasons in Los Angeles, isn’t just a long way from home, he’s trying to rebuild a career.

Is he a guy who was good enough to lead a team to three playoff appearances in his four seasons as a full-time starter. Or did the Rams get that far in spite of him … and would have gone further had he been better?

Does he ever want to remind people he started in a Super Bowl?

“I don’t need to do that,” Goff said. “I’ll go out this year and play pretty well and hopefully let them make that decision.”

If nothing else, the Lions are giving Goff the chance to answer the doubts. The starting job is his. The rest of the quarterbacks room currently consists of Tim Boyle and David Blough. They’ve thrown a combined four career touchdowns between them.

The Lions aren’t expected to be any good, of course. The defense is a wreck. Their best receiver (Kenny Golladay) left in free agency. The head coach, Dan Campbell, and general manager, Brad Holmes, are newly hired.

No one would be shocked if this season turns into a race to the top of the 2022 NFL draft.

Part of that is up to Goff. Can he continue to improve his completion percentage (67 percent last year) while cutting down on interceptions (a too-high 41 over the past three seasons)? Is he capable of being a good starter, a franchise guy, someone who was worthy of that No. 1 overall selection? Or was he propped up by McVay and lots of talented teammates?

“It can change very quickly,” Goff said of the upcoming season. “It can go from unfortunately not very good last season to good and playoff good very quickly. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is available, it is an option if we put the work in and do the right things.”

Holmes, the Lions GM, came from the Rams, so whatever faith he has in Goff comes from personal experience. Maybe a change of scenery and a lot of franchise confidence in him can bring out the best in Goff.

"I try not to pay much attention to media dialogue or anything like that," Goff said. "But sure, there’s some things that build a little chip on your shoulder. Not that I would say I feel like I’m forgotten, but there’s some things I’ve done in this league that I feel pretty good about and am excited to bring to the Lions."

No doubt on Oct. 24 in L.A., the most.

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