LOS ANGELES -- Moments following a 44-6 loss to the division-rival Arizona Cardinals late Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff went around the room, shaking hands and patting teammates on the back for a lost season that was now finished. He made sure to seek out the younger players that will remain part of the core, and he told them: "Just remember what this feels like. It's going to drive you through the offseason. It's going to drive you into next year. It's going to maybe even carry with you for the rest of your life."
Goff is only 22, just seven starts into his NFL career, but he speaks from experience, specifically the 1-11 season he absorbed as a teenage freshman at Cal.
Goff believes this season was "pretty identical" to that. "And I think the best part about it," he said, "was that we weeded out the people we needed to weed out. We changed the culture in the building, and then we won in the coming years with the same guys that were 1-11 the year before, and that's kind of what I expect to happen here, as well."
Before that happens, Goff needs to take a major step forward.
In his seven starts, the Rams lost seven games. And though Goff was hindered by a receiving corps that dropped too many passes and an offensive line that allowed too much pressure, Goff himself didn't play well, either. From his debut in Week 11 to the finale in Week 17, the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick had the fewest yards per attempt (5.31), the second-worst Total QBR (22.2), the fourth-lowest completion percentage (54.6) and the fourth-worst touchdown-to-interception ratio (0.71).
Is it fair to judge him by that sample size?
"I’d hope not," Goff said. "It’s only been seven games, and I know it’s my rookie year, I came in midway through the season. But I’m not trying to make any excuses. I’ve got to be better, and everyone’s got to be better. But I think I’ve got a lot of football ahead of me, and I expect to continue to improve and expect the guys in there to rally around me and get things done around here."
Goff entered as the NFL's youngest quarterback. He came from a system in which he never took a snap from under center and never communicated a play from the huddle. He had to learn all of that, in addition to absorbing a much thicker playbook and getting acclimated to the amplified speed at football's highest level.
Goff promptly struggled throughout the preseason, never once challenging Case Keenum for the starting job, and began the regular season as an inactive third-stringer. Goff became the backup by Week 2, then finally supplanted Keenum after the Rams' 9-6 road win over the New York Jets in Week 10. The Rams never won again. But Goff was continually praised for his toughness, and defensive end William Hayes believes Goff is "light years ahead" of where he was in the spring.
"I’ve seen him grow," Hayes said. "That kid’s future is going to be really sharp. Two years from now, next year from now, we won’t be having this discussion. He’ll be one of the best to ever play the game. That’s my opinion."
Goff has the arm strength, and while taking a whopping 25 sacks over his last six games, he also flashed mobility and presence in the pocket. But Goff struggled to get on the same page with his receivers, missed on several easy throws and, aside from the first half against the New Orleans Saints, hardly moved the ball. Teams quickly learned that bringing constant pressure would easily thwart the Rams' sluggish offense, a philosophy the Cardinals adopted while pressuring Goff on more than 40 percent of his dropbacks.
"You can say that he didn’t win a game as a starter, but we also weren’t very good in, really, any of the positions on offense to give him a chance," Rams interim coach John Fassel said.
"You can learn from the bad things," Goff added. "In life and in football and everything you do, it’s not always going to be up, up, up, up, up, all positive. There’s going to be down years, down games, down times in your life, and the way you get better from them is you learn from them."
Two weeks ago, after a demoralizing loss to the lowly San Francisco 49ers, Goff stood behind the podium at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and made a vow to the fans, saying he would do "everything in my heart and soul" to fix the offense.
Now he'll face the most important offseason of his life.
"To me, after having this season, when he told everybody that he’s going to do whatever it takes to change it, let’s see how these next few months go, and we’ll see if he does," veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said. "We’ll see if he does. It’s going to be a new team."