Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff Writer 31d

Happy homecoming: Jared Goff put on a show in Rams' win over 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jared Goff never got a chance to play here last year. The Los Angeles Rams opened their 2016 season at Levi's Stadium, and Goff, the No. 1 overall pick earlier that spring, was inactive, confined to street clothes with a plethora of family and friends watching from the stands. Goff was asked about that earlier this week and shook his head. He announced that he was "done" talking about last year.

"Last year was a whole different deal," Goff said, "and this year is exciting."

Is it ever.

Goff played the best game of his NFL career on Thursday, 11 days after playing the best game of his NFL career. He carved up the same San Francisco 49ers team he grew up rooting for, going 22-of-28 for 292 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers in a thrilling 41-39 win that went down as one of the most exciting Thursday night games ever. The Rams scored 40 points for the second time this season after managing only two 40-point games in their previous 10 seasons combined.

And they almost gave it up.

Their defense allowed a winless 49ers team that didn't score a touchdown in its first two games to amass 421 yards. And their special teams fumbled three times -- on a punt, on a kickoff and on an onside kick. It wasn't until Aaron Donald wrapped up Brian Hoyer for his first sack of the season that the Rams cemented their second win in three games. But if defense and special teams are your biggest concern about this team at this point, it's a very good sign.

The Rams' offense -- last in the NFL in yards each of the past two years and among the NFL's worst for about a decade -- continues to look very good.

"It feels good, man," Rams running back Todd Gurley said, a big smile on his face. "It feels good. We haven't been able to put up points like that since Marshall [Faulk] and them left."

Gurley scored three touchdowns in the first half, giving him six in his first three games -- the same amount he had through 16 games last season. Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods had the breakout games they had been waiting on, combining on 12 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns, both by Watkins. And the Rams' offense surpassed 100 points for the season, marking the first time this franchise has reached triple digits through the first three games since 2000.

Gurley gained 113 yards on 28 carries and added another 36 yards on five catches. Before halftime, he became the first player with six touchdowns in the first three games of a season since Calvin Johnson in 2011 -- and it was all set up by Goff moving the ball so efficiently and effectively.

Sean McVay, the mastermind behind Goff's turnaround, said he was "really pleased" with his quarterback.

"I thought he made really great decisions with the football," McVay said.

It wasn't just the numbers Goff put up; it was the throws he made. On one play, he rolled to his right, threw on the run and fired a dart to Woods in a very tight window for a 31-yard gain. He threw a perfect pass to Tyler Higbee on a post near the end zone that was dropped. He went over the top to Woods on the left sideline, setting up a tiptoe catch that went for 21 yards. He threw another dime to Cooper Kupp's back shoulder, but it was knocked away. He rolled to his left, opted against throwing to Kupp deep, let the play develop, changed his arm angle and hit Woods short, allowing him to run for what became a 25-yard gain.

And he connected with Watkins for 47 yards downfield on a ball that looked as if it were dropped into his receiver's hands by a drone. It went down as the longest completion of Goff's career, but that wasn't even the most encouraging stat from the night. This was: Goff completed 13 straight passes at one point, including his first 11 of the second half -- for a combined 155 yards and two touchdowns.

What a difference a year makes.

"Every week, I see confidence," veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of Goff. "Really, his feeling in the huddle is just that he's getting comfortable, and that he feels safe, and that he feels like, 'Hey, you know what, I can succeed in this environment, in this scenario.' You can just feel that confidence coming out of him."

Goff went 18-of-22 with all three touchdowns from the pocket Thursday, but he was also 4-of-6 for 82 yards outside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In three games, Goff has twice as many completions on passes 20 or more yards (eight) than he did in seven games last season. He is 58-of-82 for 822 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception in three games, after sporting the NFL's lowest Total QBR as a rookie.

He was asked if he ever thinks about where he was at this point last year, and how far he has come since then.

"Looking forward," Goff said, plainly. "It was exciting to be here today and be in Levi's Stadium, and obviously coming out with the win is the most important thing."

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