“Bench Jared Goff.”
“Bench him now. Bench him today. Bench him tomorrow. Bench him yesterday. Just bench him.”
If you’re a Detroit Lions fan who feels this way, I can’t blame you. Especially after Sunday’s debacle on offense that led to a 34-11 bludgeoning by the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field.
Goff played poorly in his worst game of the season. The Lions quarterback missed throws, made mental mistakes, seemed out of sync with some of his receivers, including Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson. He threw away a fourth-down pass. He threw for 202 yards, 74 coming on the final garbage-time drive.
And when Goff skipped a pass to a wide-open KhaDarel Hodge near the end of the game, the meager remnants of the 50,831 unfortunate souls who paid to watch this mess booed Goff with gusto.
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But let me assure you of two things: For one, Goff is not getting benched. It’s simply not going to happen — at least not this season. Secondly, it’s not the answer.
Coach Dan Campbell said flatly he never considered benching Goff on Sunday.
“No,” he said. “Nope, did not.”
Nor should he have. Let’s face facts. When the Lions traded Matthew Stafford for Goff in January, the Lions essentially made a ride-or-die commitment to Goff. When they restructured his contract in March, they further strengthened that commitment, through at least 2022.
I wrote in Sunday’s Free Press explaining why Goff isn’t the long-term answer for the Lions. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t the short-term answer. He is. Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes aren’t stupid. They see what we see in Goff, a middle-of-the-road player who can be effective but can’t make a difference all by himself.
But it would be lunacy for the Lions (0-6) to bench Goff before he returns to Los Angeles this week to face the team that effectively fired him. And it wouldn’t make much sense to bench him no matter what happens in the Rams game, because the next week the Lions host the Philadelphia Eagles, which gives them their next best chance at winning their first game.
And yet, this is football, a game built on the fundamental principle that the right strategy, combined with enough effort and discipline, can make up for a talent deficit. So Campbell, while being peppered with questions about Goff’s future, took a chance and gave an answer about his quarterback.
Within that answer came the tensest and most suspenseful moment I’ve seen in a postgame news conference in a long time. Campbell answered a question about whether he could accurately evaluate Goff, considering the lack of talent around him, and had everyone spellbound for a few moments.
“I don’t feel like we can accurately judge him one way or another,” he said. “I don’t feel that way yet. Now, I will say this …”
Campbell, who basically came into the interview room with smoke coming out of his ears, stopped himself. For a full seven seconds he considered what he was about to say. Those seven seconds felt twice as long in that room.
“I feel like he needs to step up more than he has,” Campbell said as he resumed. “And I think he needs to help us just like everybody else. I think he’s going to need to put a little bit of weight on his shoulders here and it’s time to step up, make some throws and do some things.
“But he needs help. He needs help. And look, I told him out there, he knows this, but some of that stuff — we’re getting these holding calls, well it’s because he’s drifting back in the pocket 10 yards deep. That’s not fair to those guys, either. … This is a collective effort now. Everything goes hand-in-hand. But I want to see him step up, I do. I do because I think he can do it.”
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I admire Campbell for not letting his quarterback off the hook, because we haven’t heard a lot of that around Detroit in the past decade. I also like that he challenged Goff openly, that it’s on the record what everyone should expect from Goff, who happened to agree with his coach.
“I think I can always do more,” he said. “You’re never in a position where you feel like your complacent.
“Of course, we’re nowhere near that, but I think I’ve got some experiences to rely on that I can relay to these guys and do my best to be the best leader I can be, and continue to try to find the open guy and get him the ball, take care of the football and do my job every day.”
We shouldn’t forget what Goff is dealing with. His top wide receiver has become Kalif Raymond, a 5-foot-8 player most Lions fans had never heard of before this year. And the one interception on his stat sheet Sunday happened when Amon-Ra St. Brown had the ball stripped from him in the air by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. And it was St. Brown who gave Goff his biggest vote of confidence when I asked if Goff was the right quarterback for the team.
“Definitely,” St. Brown said. “He’s our guy. We’re rocking with him.
“Most of the things that have to happen for things to keep picking up as an offense, it’s not just him, it’s not just the receivers, it’s not just the O-line. It’s everyone as a whole, whether that’s penalties early on that’s putting us behind the chains. Or that’s missed assignments, whether that’s turnovers. I think that as an offense as a whole we just have to be better.”
People want blood after games like these, and usually they want it from one person. That’s nothing new. But you have to remember this is a new time for the Lions during the first year of a rebuild with lots of new players. Despite all the injuries, Goff played well enough to win two games this season, and threw a two-point conversion pass to Hodge a week ago in Minnesota that should have sealed the victory and would have changed the narrative.
Instead, we have this. A bad season for the Lions that looks like it’s getting worse.
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If Goff doesn’t play better, it certainly could get uglier. Campbell wouldn’t take a future benching off the table, preferring to keep his options open. But benching Goff won’t do much for this team’s fortunes, and it could do more harm than good through its organizational upheaval.
Now is not the time for rash decisions. The time to fully consider Goff’s future will come after the season. And it’s going to take a lot longer than seven seconds to come up with the right plan.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.