Bonsignore: Jared Goff comes full circle but his ride with Rams is just beginning

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) gestures toward fans after an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Rams in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. The Rams won 41-39. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) gestures toward fans after an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Rams in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. The Rams won 41-39. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

For which he rewarded them by plunging a knife into the heart of the San Francisco 49ers, the team he grew up rooting for growing up in the Bay Area, before anxiously watching the Rams defense deliver a gallant last-minute stand to preserve a wildly entertaining 41-39 win over their bitter division foes.

In the process, he sent a decisive message to a national television audience that he clearly isn’t the bust so many deemed him and the Rams are no longer the pushovers they’ve been for far too long.

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Goff’s redemption and the Rams resurgence are unquestionably linked. The second-year quarterback’s resurrection from the ashes of draft day blunder to an efficient, functionable, sometimes dynamic NFL quarterback has breathed life into the Rams morbid offense and made them a team to be taken seriously.

All of which was on display Thursday when he completed 22 of 28 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns.

This is the same stadium, mind you, where Goff stood humbly on the sideline watching the Rams season opener last year. He was wearing a sweat suit rather than a uniform, the result of then Rams head coach Jeff Fisher banishing him to the inactive list rather than putting him on the active roster.

It was a humiliating way for the first overall pick in the 2016 draft to begin his NFL career, and a bit of an ominous one. Goff never quite recovered. By the time he actually got the nod as the starter, the Rams were playing out their season in body if not spirit, Goff was in woefully over his head, and with absolutely no help on the field or the sideline, Goff’s rookie year deteriorated into a nightmare.

The talk of bust and mistake and overrated soon turned into a chorus.

It was premature, of course. Goff was set up to fail last year. Not by design. No one set out to sabotage him. But the Rams lack of talent and the stubborn lip service Fisher paid to quarterback development and offensive imagination would have done in plenty of other quarterbacks, let alone a 21-year-old rookie making the transition from a college spread offense to the NFL.

But what’s done is done.

On Thursday Goff came full circle.

The same stadium that set in motion the torturous first season he endured as a rookie became the stage he used to rehabilitate himself in front of a national audience. A better offensive line, the dependability and explosiveness of wide receivers like Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp and the imaginative scheme and offensive play calling of Sean McVay absolutely helped, of course.

But even the Greatest Show on Turf needed a trigger man.

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And in Goff, the Rams may finally have found the heir to that distinction.

They’ve scored 40 or more points twice in three games while scoring 11 touchdowns already.

He isn’t out of the woods yet. The NFL is the kind of unforgiving beast that makes quarterbacks prove over and over and over again they’re worthy.

But the bust talk should cease, not that it was ever valid to begin with.

Goff has been efficient through the first three games of the season with flashes of brilliant. There were throws he made on Thursday like the 65-yarder he dropped into the hands of Robert Woods and the 47-yarder he soared over two defenders into the arms of Sammy Watkins that, frankly, few quarterbacks are capable of making.

It wasn’t just the hand full of breathtaking throws he made, but the way he managed the game and how timely he was in delivering when the Rams absolutely needed it.

He was 9 of 9 for 115 yards in the third quarter and led a decisive touchdown drive late in the period to answer a 49ers touchdown that cut the Rams lead to seven points. In doing so, he put the Rams back up 34-20.

In the fourth quarter, he delivered on two critical third down plays by using his feet and eyes to buy time and find the open man. On the first, he spotted Todd Gurley on third and 10 after other options were closed off to him. Gurley turned it into a 22-yard gain for a first down.

On the second, he waited just long enough on third and four for Watkins to find an open spot in the middle of the field, then found him for what turned out to be a 13-yard touchdown to make it 41-26.

The crisp play in the third quarter, the two third-down completions, the breathtaking throws to Woods and Watkins are all indicative of a quarterback with an elite skill set. And one that is now emerging before our very eyes.

Goff came full circle on Thursday.

But the ride is really just beginning.

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