Without a doubt, 2021 was the most challenging for Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff. After Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay had more-or-less given up on Goff and LA was knocked from the postseason, Goff was traded away as soon as possible. He went from Pro Bowl, Super Bowl quarterback to throw-in for a franchise quarterback trade—where he wasn’t the franchise quarterback.
Then he landed in Detroit, a city that was ready for a fresh start, but highly skeptical that Goff was anything more than a bridge to an eventual rookie quarterback to lead the franchise into the future.
That skepticism was turned up to 11 when Goff and the Lions' offense struggled through the first two months of the season. By the end of October, Goff ranked 27th in passer rating, 30th in yards per attempt, and had still failed to find his first career win without McVay as his head coach. Most people—very much including us—were done with Goff in Detroit.
But after the bye, a lot of things changed. Head coach Dan Campbell became the play-caller on offense. Tight ends coach Ben Johnson became the de facto passing game coordinator. Left tackle Taylor Decker came back from injury. The Lions added an outside receiving threat Josh Reynolds, and someone woke up the Sun God.
As a result, Goff turned a corner in a big way.
In the final half of the season, Goff ranked sixth in passer rating, 21st in yards per attempt, and he won three of his final four starts in Detroit. Whereas in November, many were wondering if Goff would start another game for the Lions again, now some believe he could be the guy for 2022 and beyond.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers has had a unique, front-row view of Goff’s tumultuous offseason. He was right there with Goff for his five years in Los Angeles, and Brockers saw Goff transform into a different kind of player.
“His leadership,” Brockers said on Monday when asked about Goff’s biggest growth this season. “He was, I guess, covered up so much about with McVay and the offense and how overpowered it was. This year, you’ve seen his leadership, his growth as a quarterback, leading the huddle, getting guys together, showing the guys behind him, going through the gameplan with him. I mean, his leadership has picked up tremendously just throughout this year.”
It’s no secret that in Los Angeles, Goff was a backseat driver to McVay’s offense. The quarterback didn’t have much autonomy when it came to his influence on the offense, and early in his career, McVay was still orchestrating the offense through Goff’s headset after the huddle had broken.
But Lions coaches approached the season with a much more collaborative approach in mind throughout the entire organization, but especially on offense.
“I was able to have a lot more control or say — ownership, is maybe the word — and that feeling of it being mine,” Goff said. “Dan (Campbell) and the rest of the staff have been great with that, and making me feel that way, and it’s been really good. I feel I’ve grown how I should grow finishing Year 6 now, and hopefully will continue to grow in that area.”
Beyond the football field, Goff believes he’s grown as a person this year, too. While he had a rocky rookie season in Los Angeles, his football career has mostly been filled with winning. He took a 1-11 Cal team to 8-5 by the time he left. He took the Rams to the playoffs in three of four seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl.
After a humbling trade and an 0-10-1 start to the season, Goff said he was proud of how he handled the adversity.
“It’s hard. It’s part of it. It gives you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and especially at my position. You deal with that sometimes,” Goff said. “But that is why you love it. You get both sides of it and navigating that through the season was absolutely challenging, but I learned a lot about myself and handling it and dealing with it.”
Of course, 2021 wasn’t the season he was hoping for. Like any competitive football player, 3-13-1 wasn’t good enough to Goff, no matter what the situation was. That said this season did give him a new outlook on the game of football.
“I think I have a much greater appreciation for winning and how hard it is and being a part of a team,” Goff said. “Your world gets flipped upside down about a year ago, and then, ‘Oh, it’s actually not that bad. You come out here and you have fun and you enjoy your teammates.’ Just knowing there is so much out there to be grateful for and have fun with.”
Goff knows his future in Detroit isn’t up to him. The Lions could very well take a quarterback in this upcoming draft given the resources they have, including the second overall pick. But for now, he’s comfortable with where he’s at.
“Ultimately I’m still under contract and still going to be here playing, and feel pretty good about my standing with them and where I’m at.”