Jared Goff returns to Bay Area, this time as a Super Bowl favorite

Jared Goff comes home a much more confident quarterback this time, leading an offense that topped the NFL last season. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- For Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the first game of his professional career sometimes seems like a distant memory.

Goff stood on the sideline at Levi's Stadium -- 70 miles from where he grew up in Northern California and 40 miles from where he starred at Cal -- and watched as the San Francisco 49ers, his childhood team, shutout the Rams in a season opener.

The rookie and No. 1 overall pick did not dress for the game, which aired on Monday Night Football. He was inactive and buried on the depth chart behind Case Keenum and Sean Mannion.

"It does feel like a long time ago," Goff said this week. "I guess it was two years ago now. It feels like forever ago and it is kind of ironic."

The Rams finished that 2016 season 4-12, coach Jeff Fisher was fired and Goff was winless in seven starts.

Two years later, the Rams return to the Bay Area for a season opener -- this time against the Oakland Raiders -- but again on a Monday night. And Goff is squarely in place as the franchise quarterback for a team considered to be among Super Bowl contenders.

For Goff, 23, two years have made all of the difference.

"I've grown up a lot," Goff said. "You mature, you learn a lot. You learn a lot about yourself, a lot about the NFL and how to prepare, how to go about your daily business, how you get ready for a game."

In 2016, the Rams' offense struggled under Fisher, and Goff was no exception. With the season off to a 4-5 start, Goff replaced Keenum and passed for 1,089 yards and five touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He was sacked 26 times.

Last season, playing for offensive-minded coach Sean McVay, Goff flourished. He helped the Rams to a historic turnaround, catapulting them from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL to the highest, averaging 29.9 points per game.

Goff passed for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, as the Rams clinched the NFC West for the first time since 2003.

Throughout training camp, Goff demonstrated a newfound confidence and ownership of the offense. He directed players to positions and re-hashed routes. He even anticipated some playcalls before McVay had a chance to relay them.

Teammates noticed.

"He can hear the play, the mic will cut off in his ear and he knows what McVay is thinking or the whole game plan and the flow of the game and how he wants it," Robert Woods said. "I think that's pretty much the biggest difference is just confidence and knowing what McVay wants."

Said Todd Gurley: "You just see his progression. Just going through his routes, going through the first receiver all the way down to his check down and to me. Doesn't like when he's out there messing up and that's what you love in a quarterback."

The Rams return 10 of 11 offensive starters, including Woods -- who last season caught 56 passes for 781 yards and five touchdowns, and Gurley, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year who amassed more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored a league-high 19 touchdowns. And they've added receiver Brandin Cooks who is expected to stretch the field and provide Goff with a deep threat.

Goff appeared comfortable throwing to each of his targets during training camp. And his connection with Cooks seemed established beyond a single offseason of work.

McVay said Goff's growth and continued maturation was apparent.

"Feel really good about Jared knowing how difficult that position is in the entirety of what we ask of the quarterback position," McVay said. "He's definitely improving and I think you definitely see him having a total command of what's going on."

The Rams' offense has remained mostly a mystery throughout the preseason, as McVay opted to keep starters on the sideline for various reasons, including injury prevention and strategizing.

But Goff has made sure that plenty of family and friends -- he has secured nearly 40 tickets -- will be on hand Monday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum when the Rams' reveal the new wrinkles added to the offense.

"There's a bunch of stuff we've been working on this offseason that we're ready to display," Goff said. "A lot of the stuff is from last season as well that we're going to continue to do and then there's a lot of new stuff we're doing."

At least by the way it's setting up, this season opener in the Bay Area has a chance to be much more memorable for Goff than the last.