You can't replace a franchise legend!
Three years ago the Detroit Lions traded away their heart when they only had a heart to give, a sacrifice required of a team that was stood in the ashes that used to represent it's hopes, whilst their fans who had endured the ineptitude of Matt Patricia were forced to the brink of hopelessness. Matthew Stafford gave everything to the Lions, and the fans gave everything to him, and the day he left was the final kick given to someone who was already down on the ground and beaten. The man who was the only one many of us had known under centre was gone. Traded for TWO 1st round draft picks, ONE 3rd round pick, and a player!
Enter Jared Goff...
The California Castaway. The 1st overall pick in the 2016 draft. The man who overcame a rough rookie season, asserted himself as a leader on the Rams team, and helped take them all the way to a Super Bowl in 2018 before getting the biggest Quarterback contract in history at the time. But the Rams lost that Super Bowl, didn't make the playoffs the following year, and somewhere along the way Sean McVay gave up on the QB that he did not draft. It all ended up with a very public benching in the 2020 playoffs for Goff, who then had to come in due to an injury to John Wofford, helped the Rams win a playoff game before they suffered defeat to Green Bay in the NFC Divisional round. But his fate was sealed.
McVay waved him out of LA, and then very publicly (though not using names) threw him under the bus as the cause of the Rams inability to go all the way, absolving himself of any blame. The perception of Goff given to the average NFL fan was that he was turnover happy, folded like a deck of cards under pressure, and could only be a serviceable NFL QB if he had an All-Pro calibre offense to support him. Suffice to say the mood in Detroit where the team was embarking on a full rebuild was not over the moon. The fans had only known Stafford, a tough as nails gunslinger who when the chips were down he was the first one in to the fight, how would the Cali QB with a known problem with pressure come in and take on that identity. The media were not kind at his opening press conference, asking Jared if he had been told he was a bridge QB, whether the Lions had mentioned they were drafting his successor, about his failures in the Super Bowl and if he knew when he was done in LA.
But from his first words...'Hello, how you guys doing?' to his last 'Thank you guys, appreciate it', he did nothing but smile. A guy who had just been left for dead by the Rams, discarded away like he was nothing and traded to a team who's only recent legacy has been failure, did nothing but smile when he got here. And he said something very poignant during that press conference when asked about his reaction to the trade which speaks as loud as ever to the situation we are in now...
'I was disappointed for two minutes, and then I spoke to these guys (Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell) on the phone and it was like a breath of fresh air, it was immediate that this is where I was supposed to be'
More on that later.
Goff came in to one hell of a situation. The world was recovering from the COVID pandemic and all sorts of restrictions were still imposed on teams which made life hard for QB's to train with their team. Matt Patricia had left behind a broken team, bereft of talent and starting from the bottom, and Bob Quinn had left the cap in ruins and new GM Brad Holmes couldn't immediately help the team outside of the draft. Of the two offensive weapons he did paid money for, Breshad Perriman never made the team and Tyrell Williams quickly fell victim to a season ending concussion. He had a 3rd year TE in TJ Hockensen, a 1st year rookie WR in Amon-Ra St Brown, WR Kalif Raymond who had not surpassed 190 yards in a season in 4 years, and his running backs. And to top it all off he had a change at OC to deal with in-season after Anthony Lynn was fired.
2021 was a write off and we all knew it. It was about installing the culture of the team going forward. Goff started off with a pick 6 against San Francisco in his first game, he threw an interception and fumbled twice in the next game against Green Bay, then in game 4 he fumbled it THREE times against Chicago, then had a TD:INT ration of 1:4 over the next 3 games. The third game was a trip back to Los Angeles to play the team that let him go in which he threw two costly interceptions in a surprisingly close encounter, which exacerbated the chatter about the Rams been right to ditch him as they were rolling at the time with their new star QB. He didn't throw a TD pass for the next 2 games as he went 5 games with just 1 TD throw. And in the last of those 5 game against Pittsburgh he suffered an oblique injury which forced him out the game and to miss a week. He then came back into a Thanksgiving Loss against the Chicago Bears. The playoff chasing Minnesota Vikings came to town to face Goff and a Lions team sitting winless at 0-10-1 with Campbell struggling to impose his identity on the team and no win in sight...
Then something changed
Given an opportunity to attempt a game winning drive, Goff drove the Lions to the red zone, and on 4th and 2 with time about to expire, he found Amon Ra St Brown and the Lions walked it off. Goff and Campbell embraced like long lost friends and as if the weight of the world was lifted off their collective shoulders. Goff would go on to win 3 of his last 4 games that year (he missed 2 losses due to injury) as they beat the Vikings, destroyed the playoff bound Arizona Cardinals and beat the Green Bay Packers (the only loss was away at Denver when the team was hit HARD by COVID, they couldn't field a full game day roster). His TD:INT ratio in that span was 9:2. It was clear the culture was catching on, and that represented a successful season despite the 3-13-1 record.
But despite the upturn in his fortunes, he then had to sit and watch the LA Rams go on and win the Super Bowl under Matthew Stafford in his first year as Sean McVay got to vindicate his move for Stafford and subsequent blaming of Goff for previous failure. And then he had to sit and wait to see if Detroit used the first of the Rams draft picks to select a QB in the draft...they did not.
Year 2 came with more expectations from me and the fanbase at large. The end to year 1 brought hope that things were moving forward and Goff now had a fighting chance to win games with a better team and a full off season to prepare. Like year 1, he opened the season with a pick 6 in a narrow loss, this time to the Philadelphia Eagles. But in game 2 came a 4 TD performance in a winning effort against Washington which got all the fanbase going. Another 4 TD performance came 2 games later against Seattle in a 48-45 loss where he gave us hope he was taking that next step forward. But then the real hard part came, the team got blown out in succession against New England and Dallas, with a measly 2 Field Goals against the latter the only points scored in both games combined. Goff had 3 Interceptions, 3 Fumbles, and 0 Touchdowns. And then came the backbreaker against the Dolphins, we were up 27-17 at half time, and then got shutout in the 2nd half as we lost 31-27 to fall to 1-6 and I blew my lid.
My words on the podcast went along the lines of 'I've not been this angry since just before I stopped caring about Matt Patricia's team, before the apathy set in'. The anger was because I believe so deeply in Brad and Dan and I didn't want to be in a world where their plan failed, and we just couldn't seem to take that next step of winning games. As for our QB I believe my words were 'Thanks Jared, but see you later'....
I lost my faith.
But Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes did not.
Despite a public vote of confidence from Sheila Ford Hemp (an owner speaking out is always an ominous sign), more and more fans demanding action at the QB position and beginning to question whether the overall plan was working, Brad and Dan did not blink in their belief of #16. Brad Holmes scouted Jared Goff, was instrumental in the Rams giving up big capital to go and get him in the draft, and then as soon as he had the opportunity to work with him again outside of LA, he took it. Dan Campbell potentially risked his career for Jared Goff. Even when the owners vote of confidence came out, when many a guy might panic to try and save his job, he didn't even blink, sure he became a little sterner in his words to his QB, but the ultimate message was this was tough love for a guy he believed in to lead the GRIT revolution.
The sign of a true leader is sticking to your core beliefs through hell and high water, whatever anyone else says be damned. Campbell believed implicitly in his General, and Goff answered. On a Sunday night in Detroit in November, the Lions took on their identity and they fought out a bitter, gritty war against the Green Bay Packers and won 15-9. They then went on the road to Chicago and, down 14 in the 4th quarter, mounted an unlikely comeback to win again. They wrecked the playoff bound Giants in New York, went toe to toe in a narrow defeat on Thanksgiving against Buffalo where Goff shredded their vaunted secondary, and then went on to win 5 of their final 6 games of the season. Goff took his team to Green Bay on the final week, with a team devastated to miss out on the playoffs and nothing but pride to play for, against a Packers team gunning for the playoffs. And he led them to a win. Detroit only wins in Green Bay when they play the backups, he took them there in a meaningless game and the team dominated them.
There was the true birth of the GRIT movement, and the rebirth of my faith.
The Lions once again passed on a top tier QB in the draft, opting to bring in a long term project in Hendon Hooker, as the continued unwavering support for Goff continued, and he would get his chance to take us to the promised land in year 3, which was the new expectation.
And so it came to be. The tone was set with an opening day win over the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead which he played great, turnover free football to help lead the team to a huge signature win. The team rushed out to an 8-2 record and despite some last minute jitters which is to be expected from a young team looking to break out into the playoffs for the first time in 7 years, Goff stayed firm through some bad games himself and dragged the Lions to their first NFC North title in 30 years, and the city is preparing for it's first playoff game since the early 1990's.
So to the point of this article, and if your wondering why I've written out Goff's entire Detroit history which can be googled anywhere before getting to what I want to mention, I have to tell the story before I can adequately convey my emotions on issue
And why does any of this matter?
Because that first playoff game in Detroit in 30 years is against the Los Angeles Rams. Brad Holmes faces the team where he made his name, Matthew Stafford is coming home to potentially win his first playoff game in Detroit (as an opposition player), and Jared Goff has to face the team and the head coach that said he was not good enough to win a Super Bowl in a playoff situation where those comments are going to be put to the test.
The chips are all in. For Detroit, this game is their chance to tell their side of the story in the Stafford-Goff trade. McVay got his instant gratification he was looking for in the form of a Super Bowl win, but for the Lions this has been about the long haul, establishing Jared as their QB and building a team round him to go and win it all. 3 years ago Detroit sacrificed it's heart to start this process, and now is the time for them to show that they made the right decision. And for the people of the city who have so desperately waited for this moment, this is a fork in the road. They might be about to experience their first playoff win ever, or they might watch the man who most of us consider a hero, come back with another team and take it all away to add to the list of tremendous lows they have already had to go through.
And this is all on the shoulders of Jared Goff. For him, for his team, and for the city he represents, this game is everything.
And that's why there is only one quarterback who matters this week. And it's not Matthew Stafford. I will forever be a fan of his, but his time is Honolulu Blue is over, it's the era of Jared Goff now, and nowhere near enough is been said about Goff's story in this game compared to his counterpart.
And I might get in trouble for saying this, but I believe I'm now just as emotionally invested in Goff as I am Stafford. From the outset of his trade, I believe he was unfairly scapegoated by the Rams and McVay and have always wanted him to have the chance to prove them wrong, he's now going to get that, but it runs much deeper than that. He's only been here 3 years, but in that time he came to us at our lowest point, and he suffered with us. We went through the initial period of hope, only to go through our lowest point last year when it all appeared to be over, to then the last 14 months where this team under him has transformed right before our eyes, as has he. The turnover prone QB who arrived has cleaned up his act, the guy who 'struggled under pressure' has the 3rd lowest sack count on pressured drop backs, the guy who needs all the help has created stars, not needed them fully developed already.
The smiling QB who came with the standard NFL speak and the iconic 'Beverley Hills Cop' jacket pretending to be at one with Detroit has BECOME the place he represents. He's barely missed a game, despite taking his beatings, he's got up every time and moved on, when he's made mistakes, he's forgotten about them and moved on. The Cali swag is gone and the Detroit vs Everybody mentality has replaced it. His 'I didn't know I was a poor man's anything' riposte to Ryan Fitzpatrick perfectly encapsulating the 'I have no respect for anyone who talks trash on us' mentality. I feel like I've been on a long journey with him, and the more you all go through together, the more you understand them and who they are.
Goff endured through a 1 win season starting as a True Freshman at California, getting the team up to 8 wins and breaking 26 school records. He had an 0-7 record in his rookie NFL season with the Rams and ended up getting them to a Super Bowl, and then he came to the Lions at their lowest point, and despite having every obstacle imaginable thrown in his way, he now has a Division Title that has eluded the team for 30 years, and he now has the opportunity to get a playoff win that has eluded the team for 30 years.
Looking back, Jared Goff has always been GRIT, it just takes someone willing to believe in him. And that leads back to his opening press conference and why he was smiling...
HE KNEW. Whilst everyone was debating if he was a bridge QB, or if the Lions would draft a QB, or if they were really that invested in him, somehow Holmes and Campbell had already convinced him that he was their guy and that they truly meant it. McVay abandoned him, Holmes has stood with him from the beginning to where we are now. Campbell trusts Holmes, and has delivered that same loyalty to Goff without it ever wavering. In a league where so many Quarterbacks have been used and abused, thrown away at the first sign of trouble by Head coaches more concerned about themselves than their players, Dan and Brad have showed that loyalty and belief in a player can help them triumph against all the odds. Even when fans like me lost hope, he was always their guy, and though the road has been long and winding, their faith is on the verge of been repaid.
And so when people talk about the game this week, remind them that the story of Stafford has been told. The Story of Goff is our story now, he's our Quarterback, and we ride with our quarterbacks till the end!
Writing this before the game opens this up to some serious feedback if we lose. But all I have seen about this week is our old QB, not our current one. And watching a video on YouTube I suddenly realised the emotional attachment I had to our QB and how much I wanted us to win this game, for him and for us all. Outside of Detroit, so many people want us to lose. They want to carry on making jokes about the Lions and the playoffs, they want to make jokes about Stafford winning a playoff game in Detroit against the Lions, they want to see the perennially suffering Lions fanbase suffer through a new low just for their amusement.
Well I want to say...
ALL YOU HATERS ARE GOING TO BE DISAPPOINTED!
I believe in Jared Goff, I believe in my Detroit Lions, I believe in Dan Campbell, I believe in the GRIT movement. This is not your Same Old Lions, it's the Brand New Lions!
So to you Jared
You can't replace a franchise legend, but you can become your own!