On Sunday night, the Detroit Lions faced a fourth-and-1 to close out the game. A first down would clinch the game, clinch the team’s first winning record in five years, and send the divisional rival Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs.
The Lions have been an unpredictable team on fourth down. They’re a hard-nosed gritty team that loves to run the football, but offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has been known to throw some tricky plays out there on essential downs.
But that night in Lambeau Field, the Lions didn’t hide their intentions. Quarterback Jared Goff was lined up in shotgun behind center, and there wasn’t a running back with him. The Lions wanted the ball in Goff’s hands to clinch the game, and they didn’t care if the Packers knew it or not, because they trusted their quarterback.
“Let’s let Goff finish this out for us,” coach Dan Campbell said after the game. “Let’s let him win this game. So, we put the big hat on him and had a feeling what they would be in and we just, we believed in Goff.”
That belief paid off, as Goff took the snap, quickly read the Packers defense, and found a wide open DJ Chark for nine yards and the win.
Goff has done a ton to earn that kind of trust. Since Week 10, he has been a top-10 quarterback in the NFL in just about every statistical category:
- 105.9 passer rating (fourth)
- 15 passing TDs (t-sixth)
- 0 interceptions
- 7.7 yards per attempt (ninth)
- 8.64 adjusted yards per attempt (third)
- 1st in dropback EPA
- 3rd in passing DVOA
The Lions entered the season with a big question about Goff’s future. With two first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, they would likely have the ammunition to upgrade the quarterback position if they wanted to. And after an inconclusive performance last year, it really wasn’t clear if Goff would stick around long. The 2023 offseason provides an opportunity for Detroit to get out of his bulky contract. He’s due to take $30.65 million out of the Lions’ cap, but they part ways with him, Detroit would only incur $10 million in dead cap—or to put another way: they’d create $25.65 million in cap space.
But that isn’t even a conversation anymore. If the Lions’ gesture of putting the ball in Goff’s hands to win them the game on Sunday night wasn’t a strong enough statement, Campbell really drove the point home in his post-game press conference that Goff is their guy.
“He’s been the guy that’s played lights out for the back half of the season, really all season,” Campbell said. “He just had some things, some bumps, like all of us did early in the year. Let’s put the onus on him, man. Let’s let him win this for us and he did that.”
The next afternoon in his end-of-season press conference, Campbell continued to throw his support Goff’s way.
“He fits us,” Campbell said. “We’re about running the football, play action pass and when you do those things you need a quarterback that can get you in the right play and is very good at accuracy. Throwing the football, decision making, and he fits the bill on all of that. I mean, it was a hell of a year by him. He’s one of the biggest reasons we even got this turn around, just his decision-making, taking care of the football.”
Those aren’t just coaching platitudes, they’re facts. As pointed out by NextGenStats, Goff was one of the best play-action passers in the NFL in the final 10 weeks of the season.
“Since Week 9, when the Lions’ turnaround began, Goff has used play action on more than 30 percent of his dropbacks—a top-10 rate in the NFL. He’s used it well. Since Week 9 on play-action passes, Goff has earned a 98 NGS passing score, tops in football.”
As for taking care of the football, Goff had just a single turnover in the team’s final nine games—a botched snap exchange that center Frank Ragnow took responsibility for. And Goff hasn’t thrown an interception in 324 passing attempts—the fifth longest streak in NFL history.
Turnovers have been a serious problem over Goff’s career, but the coaching staff has said all season how impressed they’ve been with his response to coaching.
“I am really proud of how he’s taken the coaching this year from (Lions QB coach) Mark Brunell, from (offensive assistant) Johnny Morton, from (offensive assistant) J.T. Barrett, myself,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said last week. “And he’s taken any criticism we’ve had about his game, and he’s worked to improve those. And that’s been on a weekly basis, so I’ve seen growth from him as a player, and like I said to start the year, as long as a player’s still growing, it’s very encouraging as a coach.”
As for Goff, he, too, sees himself as a perfect fit for what this team is, and is excited for what this “special” group of players has in store for the future.
“I’ve loved my time here, and I love Dan (Campbell), love the players and coaches and can’t speak higher of this group and these coaches,” Goff said Monday. “I love leading this team. I love being a part of it. I love playing for Dan, I love playing from (Lions GM) Brad (Holmes). I love playing for (Lions owner) Sheila (Hamp). It’s such a special group and a special place to be—Ford Field. It’s all goes into it being a special place to be and I’ve really enjoyed it.