FOXBOROUGH — The play was drawn up perfectly. Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff took the snap out of the shotgun, sensed pressure coming from Patriots defensive end Jabaal Sheard, then stepped up in the pocket. Meanwhile, wide receiver Kenny Britt had just juked New England cornerback Malcolm Butler nearly out of his shoes by streaking down the sideline after faking an out route.
Goff looked to his left, planted his front foot into the throw, then fired a bomb right in stride to Britt. The big wide receiver rumbled his way down to the 1-yard line for a 66-yard completion, the longest passing play allowed by the Patriots’ defense all season. One play and two defensive penalties later, Goff rolled to his right and again found Britt, for a 1-yard touchdown.
The drive showed everything you look for in a young quarterback, but unfortunately for the Rams, it came with less than two minutes left in a game that had up to that point been filled with offensive ineptitude. Prior to that throw, Goff had thrown for just 94 yards. Los Angeles didn’t cross midfield until early in the third quarter. The long completion to Britt constituted just over 40 percent of the Rams’ total offensive yards.
Much of that can be chalked up to the Patriots’ pass rush. Goff took four sacks and was hit nine other times as New England thrived with delayed blitzes from the secondary and stunts up the middle.
“It’s just the way they mix everything up,” Goff said. “They don’t really do the same thing twice often . . . they were able to confuse us up front and do some good things.”
Goff, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft, was making just his third NFL start. A week after tossing three touchdowns in a loss to the Saints, he looked like a rookie again on Sunday, taking huge hits all day and completing 14 of 32 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two tough-luck interceptions. The first bounced right off the hands of tight end Lance Kendricks to Butler, and the second was a fluttering rainbow right to linebacker Kyle Van Noy after Goff’s throwing arm was whacked by Sheard.
“He’s a tough kid, we hit him a lot and he’s getting better every week,” Patriots defensive end Chris Long said. “He’s only been in there a couple of weeks but you can see him continuing to progress. He kept getting back up today and I credit him a lot with that.”
Despite his inexperience, Goff said the Patriots didn’t do anything he hadn’t seen before.
“I think they just did a lot of different things,” Goff said. “Everything they did I had seen, but it was just never consistent I guess, which makes it a lot harder.”
After the game, Rams left tackle Greg Robinson said that the coaching staff preaches getting to the line quickly, likely to give Goff time to read the defense. The Patriots seemed to take advantage of this, though, by frequently reading the offensive set and sending pressure from the secondary in exactly the right spots.
“They got us a few times and mostly from the outside,” said Robinson. “We practiced that all week, but I feel like they held [the pressure] long enough for us to get in our sets and our protection and then they brought it. It’s stuff that Goff can’t see, the center can’t see, and after the snap, anything they do after that, we just have to hope we pick it up.”
Goff was not exactly put in a position to succeed, and it wasn’t just the pocket pressure. Countless Rams dropped catches after taking hits in open space, and Los Angeles ran for 36 yards, just 2.8 yards per carry.
“If he’s making a bad decision and hitting a defender in the chest with the ball, then that’s one thing, but you know, he didn’t do that,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “I have to look at the tape so I can give you a more realistic evaluation of his play, but Jared Goff wasn’t the reason we lost this football game today.”