The anger is still there. The bitterness at how it ended.
Five seasons, three playoff trips, one Super Bowl appearance and so little respect for his role in it all.
But when Jared Goff returns to Los Angeles this week to face his old team, the Rams, the Detroit Lions quarterback insists none of that will matter.
Not to him. Not to his new team. Not to anyone.
“Of course, you’re motivated,” Goff said. “Of course, you have the chip on your shoulder, I’ve spoken about that. There was some disrespect felt towards the end, there was some sourness there towards the end and you still feel that, you still have that chip on your shoulder. But at the same time, when the game starts, if I let any of that come into how I’m going to play the game, it’d be selfish, and I’m going to play the game just how I would any other game.”
The Lions and Rams play Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, in a game that seems personal to many involved.
First-year Lions general manager Brad Holmes spent his entire NFL career with the Rams before leaving for Detroit this winter.
Holmes’ top lieutenant, Ray Agnew, played three seasons for the Rams and won a Super Bowl with the organization before joining its front office.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, a first-round pick by the Rams in 2012, was traded to Detroit in a March salary dump.
And Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford played 12 seasons for the Lions and was the best quarterback in modern franchise history until, sick of losing, he asked for a trade out of town.
Holmes sent Stafford to the Rams in January for Goff and three draft picks in his first act as GM, and two years after Goff led them to a Super Bowl, the Rams were elated to include their quarterback in the deal.
Goff fell out of favor in L.A. not long after he signed a four-year extension in 2019 that appeared to cement him as the Rams’ long-term quarterback.
McVay benched an injured Goff for the start of the Rams’ wild-card round win over the Seattle Seahawks last season, then — after Goff helped them to victory — talked in code about his quarterback’s future.
“He’s our quarterback, right now,” McVay said after the Rams’ playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers the next week.
Two weeks later, having had only cursory contact with the organization about their intentions, Goff was on the move to Detroit.
McVay apologized for the way he handled the trade on Monday, telling reporters in Los Angeles he wished “there was better clear communication” between him and his quarterback.
“You don’t want to catch guys off guard,” McVay said. “It came together a lot faster than anybody anticipated. But yeah, of course. Anytime that tough decisions and things like that, where people are affected, you always want to be as understanding and as empathetic as possible and think about it through the other person’s lens. And there are certainly things I would do it a little bit differently when those situations arise in the future.”
Goff said Wednesday he appreciated McVay’s comments.
“It takes a man to say something like that,” he said.
And he insisted his relationship with McVay was not as bad as outsiders have made it appear.
“I don’t think it nearly eroded the way people thought, and I think that was part of the confusion at the end,” he said. “I don’t feel like it really eroded that way. Again, I appreciate him saying that, and it’s big of him, but at the same time, it was done the way it was, and it’s been done.”
Together, Goff and McVay accomplished plenty to be proud of in L.A., and it’s those moments Goff said he remembers most about his time there.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2016, Goff led the Rams to an NFC West championship in his first full season as a starter and was playing in a Super Bowl in Year 3.
He won 42 games during the 2017-20 seasons, a total topped only by Tom Brady over the same span, and was selected to two Pro Bowls.
“I’ve got so many great memories and so many friendships and lifelong bonds and people that I’ll talk to forever, and all that, that I think the sourness is there, still, from how it ended, but there’s so much more of good things that happened that make you appreciative for those times and appreciative that you’re able to experience them and be a big part of them,” Goff said.
Six games into his tenure in Detroit, Goff and the Lions have yet to experience some of the same highs.
Goff has more turnovers (eight) than touchdown passes (seven), and the Lions (0-6) are the NFL’s only winless team.
Lions coach Dan Campbell was critical of Goff after Goff finished 28-for-42 passing for 202 yards in last week’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, in which the Lions failed to score a first-half touchdown for the fourth straight game.
On Wednesday, Campbell said he still believes in Goff’s future with the Lions.
“He is a pure passer, man. He can throw the football. And if you get him a minute and give him a little protection to let him see it, I think he can make some pinpoint throws,” Campbell said. “I’ve seen that from him. Look, I’ve seen enough of him over the last four years to know that he can just slice you up if he gets in a rhythm because he did it to us every year (when I was with the New Orleans Saints) and we had a damn good defense. I’ve seen it here. And I think that — I just, I do. I think if we can stay in the normal flow of a game and we can function like we need to right now offensively with what we are, I think we can with him. I just do.”
The Rams (5-1) have thrived with Stafford at quarterback and look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders for the first time since 2018.
Stafford ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards (1,838), is tied for third in touchdowns (16) and at age 33 is a legitimate MVP candidate for the first time in his career.
THE GREAT QB QUESTION: Lions may miss Stafford, but neither he, nor Goff, are the answer
All that has added intrigue to this week’s matchup, though McVay said those narratives are secondary to what happens on the field.
“It’s about the Lions versus the Rams,” he said. “And we’re going to try to put together a great game plan to be successful in all three phases, try to go get our sixth win. And that’s really what it is. It’s a fun narrative, and these are questions that you guys have to ask. There might be some inside knowledge that he has on how we operate and vice versa for some of the things that he can do, but that’s no different than any other week when you have some familiarity with an opponent, whether it be from the coaches or from the players that you’ve worked with in previous stops.”
Goff, who is 0-13 as a starter without McVay as his coach, has taken a similar approach to Sunday’s game.
He downplayed his record without McVay.
“That’s, I guess, a stat, sure,” he said. “No, I don’t put any stock in it. I think Sean’s a tremendous coach. Like I said, I’ve got all the respect in the world for him and what he does on the field and the way he’s coached since I was there. And think what they do is tremendous.”
And he said he’s excited to face his old team Sunday in front of fans who used to cheer his name.
“It’s another game,” he said. “Again, I think the easy answer and the reality is that we need a win and regardless of who we’re playing this week or regardless of my history or Brock’s history or anyone might have with this team and with the rams, it’s more of the reality is that we need to win and we can’t focus on that really.”