Earlier this week, Jared Goff was asked how he felt about being labeled a system quarterback.
“I’ll be a product of the system if we win games,” Goff told ESPN. “We just continue to go out there and keep playing, keep putting up 30 points and call me whatever you want.”
After the Rams’ 38-31 victory over the Vikings on Thursday Night Football, we need to call Goff something else—perhaps a way-too-early MVP candidate. The third-year quarterback completed 26 of 33 passes for 465 yards, a franchise record-tying five touchdown passes (four of which came in the first half), no turnovers, and a perfect passer rating—against the no. 2 defense by DVOA in 2017. Even that undersells his performance. Entering Thursday’s game, there had been 9,248 instances from a combined 491 quarterbacks that a player threw 33 or more passes in a game. Nobody had ever logged a 158.3 rating on that many attempts until Goff.
His third touchdown of the first half (what a phrase) might be the best throw of a nearly flawless game, and maybe even the best throw of his life. Goff faked a jet sweep to running back Todd Gurley to momentarily freeze the defense, rolled right while running away from defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, and then threaded the ball into a sliding 18-inch window to Cooper Kupp.
Maybe the throw of “system QB” Goff’s career thus far. Just perfect. pic.twitter.com/YmxeDlyjHz— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) September 28, 2018
On the next drive, Goff launched a 47-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks that traveled 55 yards in the air at an angle that looked like someone accidentally held the receiver button down in Madden too long and uncorked a bullet throw. Except Goff’s throw dropped in perfectly.
Head coach and play-caller Sean McVay will rightfully get a lot of credit for the victory. (His best moments included two different Goff touchdown passes where McVay schemed a receiver to get a one-on-one mismatch with linebacker Anthony Barr: a mesmerizing first-half play designed for Cooper Kupp and a second-half throw to Robert Woods.) McVay’s otherworldly game plan allowed Goff to hit a lot of wide-open receivers, but the Rams won the game because Goff made throws into windows that looked closed. After an undeniable performance, it’s time to re-evaluate Goff’s skill level for what feels like the third time in as many years.
Even on his own team, Goff is an afterthought compared to the star-studded defensive line, rebuilt cornerback group, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, reigning Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley, and media darling McVay. In a league where franchises’ fortunes ebb and flow mostly with their quarterbacks, Goff is relatively anonymous— particularly by “quarterback drafted no. 1 overall and starting for an undefeated team playing in America’s second-largest city” standards. Do you think you could recognize Jared Goff in a bar without Googling him? Would any of your friends?
Goff’s rise has been fast. He played seven games in his rookie season, mostly under Jeff Fisher, and turned in one of the worst performances by a first-year signal-caller in league history as he threw for a meager 5.31 yards per attempt. Through four games this season, his 10.49 yards per attempt has been nearly double that figure. He’s gone from bona fide bust as a rookie, to “Wow, he doesn’t suck!” in his sophomore campaign, to “Why are you not mentioning me and Patrick Mahomes II in the same sentence?” in his third season.
A large part of his success comes from playing in McVay’s system (that is just as true of Mahomes’s freakish start to 2018 playing in Andy Reid’s), but at what point does Goff revving the best system in football to 100 percent capacity put him in the discussion for best quarterback, period? Goff may not care what names we give him, but by the end of the year, we might be calling him MVP.