And heading into Week 15, Stafford was holding up his end of the deal, having pulled the Rams within a game of the Arizona Cardinals with a resounding Monday night victory. What the Rams never expected, but certainly hoped, was that Goff’s could play a role, as well, taking on the Cardinals on Sunday in Detroit.
What they got was beyond the Rams’ wildest dreams.
The NFC West race got a little bit tighter on Sunday after the Lions pulled off an upset for the ages, racing to a 17-point first-half lead on the stunned Cardinals (10-4) before settling for a 30-12 victory that was literally one for the record books.
Now the Rams (9-5) can end Week 15 – upended because of a Covid-19 breakout that sidelined over 20 players last week — on a triumphant note. After having their game against the Seattle Seahawks originally scheduled for Sunday moved back to Tuesday night, the Rams would move into a tie with the Cardinals for the division lead with a victory.
All this because the man they no longer felt could win them a big game won one of the biggest of the 2021 season.
Goff’s historic trade to Detroit sets the stage for an historic upset
When the Lions traded Stafford to the Rams, it was the treasure trove of draft picks, not Goff, that was considered the real value heading back to Detroit. After leading the Rams to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season, he underwhelmed under coach Sean McVay and fell so far out of favor, the Rams were willing to deal a third-round pick in 2021 and first-rounders in ’22 and ’23, along with Goff, to get Stafford, who had never taken the Lions as deep into the playoffs as Goff in Los Angeles.
And while Stafford has had his moments with the Rams, Goff’s first season in Detroit has been difficult. The Lions entered Week 15 with the worst record in the NFL at 1-11-1. Only twice since 1970 had a team with the worst record in the league beaten a team with the best record.
But it became apparent from the very first drive on Sunday that something extraordinary was taking place at Ford Field.
Whether with the Rams or Lions, Goff has always owned the Cardinals
Sunday, of course, was the first time Goff had faced the Cardinals as a member of the Lions. But with the Rams, Goff had faced Arizona twice a season, and had gone 7-1 against them, throwing 11 touchdowns against three interceptions in those eight games.
So maybe it wasn’t a surprise that Goff took the opening kickoff and marched down the field on a 15-play, 63-yard drive that soaked up the first nine minutes of the game and yielded a field goal for a 3-0 lead. And when Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense went 3-and-out on their opening possession, Goff struck again, ending an eight-play, 93-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown pass to rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown for 10-0.
But the play that sent shockwaves throughout the league came at the end of another monster drive, a 9-play, 97-yarder in less than two minutes, culminating in a 22-yard touchdown pass to another former Ram, Josh Reynolds, and a 17-0 halftime lead.
“You know the game we’ve talked about playing all season? This was that game,” Goff said. “This is what we knew we could do.”
The shocked Cardinals were never able to counter. The closest they would get was 27-12 with 4:40 left in the game. Not only was it just the third time the team with the league’s worst record beat the best, it was the first time ever that a 1-win team beat a 10-game winner by a double-digit margin.
“They were hungrier than us,” Murray said. “They played harder than us. We didn’t come prepared at all and it showed.”
With three weeks left, the race for NFC top seed is now wide open
Before last Monday, the Cardinals were sitting alone atop the NFC standings with a 10-2 record and could have put the NFC West race away with a victory over the Rams. Instead, the Cardinals have now lost two games in a row and have lost wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the rest of the regular season to a knee injury.
Had the Cardinals won Sunday, against a team in which they were double-digit favorites, the Cardinals would have clinched at least a playoff berth. Now that is on hold as well. After their game Tuesday with Seattle, the Rams play the Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers to finish the season. The Cardinals will take on the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys and Seahawks in their final three games.
But even in their delight over Goff’s Christmas miracle on their behalf, McVay was guarded in his optimism.
“It all becomes irrelevant if we don’t take care of business,” McVay told Rams reporter Stu Jackson.
And, indeed, the Rams should take heed in that factoid about teams with the best record losing to the team with the worst one. The previous two teams to meet that fate since 1970 – the 1995 Dallas Cowboys and 2004 New England Patriots – both went on to win the Super Bowl.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference