Double role reversal: Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford to play against former teams

·4 min read
The Rams' Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford after a game in 2018.
Quarterbacks Jared Goff of the Rams and Matthew Stafford of the Lions after a game in 2018. They'll have a chance to meet again Sunday, but as quarterbacks for the other teams. (Associated Press)

After watching it be built from the ground up, Jared Goff played only seven games for the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

He never heard a cheer. Or a boo.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed to attend games in the new stadium during the 2020 season.

Goff, once the face of the Rams franchise, returns to the $5-billion venue Sunday as the quarterback for the winless Detroit Lions.

“Never got to see it with fans,” Goff told Detroit reporters this week, “so it will be cool to see that and just be there.”

Will he be cheered or booed?

“I think he'll be received well,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I think the L.A. fans, and I think the Rams fans, know what a great job he had done and how much he meant to the Rams organization, both as a football player and then also [in] the community.”

McVay, of course, unceremoniously exiled Goff to Detroit in January in a trade that netted the Rams veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford has led the Rams to a 5-1 record. Goff and the Lions are 0-6.

McVay, who has said that he emphasizes open, honest communication with players, spent the week answering questions about the detached way he dealt with Goff as the trade happened. Goff, the top pick in the 2016 NFL draft, said he appreciated McVay acknowledging missteps, but still harbored sourness.

How that translates onto the field will be one of the main subplots Sunday in a game that also marks the return to Los Angeles of Lions defensive lineman Michael Brockers and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.

Lions coach Dan Campbell spoke with Goff about handling what could be an emotional return.

“Look, there’s going to be emotions there when you’ve been in a place that long, especially when you’re the quarterback, you know, you’re the face of the franchise — there’s going to be some emotions,” Campbell said. “But he also knows, and we know, ‘Man, everything up until that point is about getting ready and to help your team have the best chance for success.'”

Rams players are looking forward to seeing their former teammate.

Receiver Robert Woods credited Goff with helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl and for helping him become a 1,000-yard receiver.

“Hope he plays well,” Woods said, “but we win.”

Tyler Higbee said Goff was “my guy on the field and off the field,” and was excited to see him return.

“I’m always rooting for him,” Higbee said. “I want to see him have success — just not against the Rams.”

Receiver Cooper Kupp wants Goff to do well against every team except the one he began his career with.

“I want to go out there and kick their butt,” Kupp said.

Goff, who has passed for seven touchdowns, with four interceptions, isn’t the only quarterback playing against his former team.

Stafford, 33, played 12 seasons with the Lions before ownership agreed to trade him during the offseason.

“Everyone wants me to say, ‘I circled the Rams,’” said Stafford, who has passed for 16 touchdowns, with four interceptions. “I asked for a trade, not knowing anywhere where I was going to be. There were a bunch of different spots where I thought I could go. I ended up here.

“I'm extremely happy to be here, I pinch myself getting the opportunity to play for this team with these players and these coaches.”

Stafford said there are some familiar faces still with the Lions, but many of the players and coaches are new.

“I'm going to enjoy getting the chance to see some of those guys that I've spent a lot of time and played a lot of meaningful football with,” he said. “But at the same time once the ball is snapped, I'm doing everything I can to play as good as I can and help our team win.”

Stafford plays for a Rams team that features defensive stars such as lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Goff spent five seasons practicing at times against Donald, and a season and a half practicing against Ramsey. But he never absorbed a tackle by either of them as teammates.

“They have some good players over there and they do some good things and I know as well as anyone, they’re well-coached and do a great job,” he said. “So, it will be a challenge.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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