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James Cook: Goff has shot to create legacy

Jan. 12—The national narratives swirling around the Detroit Lions playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams all center on Matthew Stafford.

But this game is really more about Jared Goff and the Lions.

Stafford asked to leave Detroit, looking elsewhere for the success that eluded him in the Motor City. He won a Super Bowl with the Rams after the trade that netted the Lions three draft picks that GM Brad Holmes flipped into numerous starters — and Goff.

Stafford's legacy is already cemented. Goff's, not so much.

Goff may not have come to Michigan willingly, but in three seasons already accomplished things that Stafford could not — bringing a division championship banner to Detroit for the first time in 30 years, securing a home postseason game for the first time in three decades and looking for the franchise's first playoff victory since Stafford was 3 years old.

Goff is facing the franchise and coach that discarded him, with an opportunity to end their season. (The same goes for ex-Rams WR Josh Reynolds.)

Simply put, this game is a lot bigger for Goff than Stafford, whose doubters largely disappeared after that Super Bowl ring. Goff's doubters have been constant, and Rams fans mostly remember him as the QB that couldn't win a Super Bowl and that the franchise shipped out for one who could.

"I so badly want to win a game for this city and win a playoff game for this city that hasn't had one in so long," Goff said in Wednesday's press conference. "We've got a home playoff game for the first time in so long, and that's so much more important than anything personally for me. I want to be a part of this win and do my job to the best of my ability."

Last year in Green Bay to end the season, Goff had a similar chance to end another team's season. He played pretty well (23-for-34 passing) for a QB with a reputation that he can't win in the cold, and the Lions eliminated the Packers from playoff contention.

Ever since being the No. 1 overall pick by the Rams in the 2016 NFL Draft, he's been doubted, criticized and underappreciated. Most Lions fans (myself included) thought he was merely a throw-in in the Stafford trade, maybe someone who'd be around a year or so while the Lions draft and develop another QB to replace him.

That hasn't happened, and Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell have shown ultimate faith in him. He's responded with two of the best seasons in Lions history in many ways, becoming the first Detroit quarterback to post a QB rating of 95 or more in consecutive campaigns. The bad interceptions that plagued him in L.A. largely vanished.

"Seeing the opportunity to be a part of something that's from the ground up and to be able to be where we're standing right now and have the chance to win the Super Bowl is pretty exciting," Goff said. "We've got a long way to go. The Rams are the first team in our way, and we've got to go handle business."

Sure, there's a lot going against the Lions — a franchise that seems to attract bad mojo. Fans who've been beaten down for decades expect the next yellow flag to doom the team. The No. 3 seed owns a record of 2-8 in the last five postseasons. Injuries last week to Sam LaPorta and Kalif Raymond don't help.

But there's always good news as well. One would hope the officiating debacle in Dallas would keep the referees at bay for a little bit, Ford Field has been a major home-field advantage this season, Stafford has a losing record in Detroit, and LaPorta said Thursday he's "optimistic" he'll play Sunday night.

Ford Field has been rocking this year. The excitement around this team is like nothing seen in most of our lifetimes.

Demonstrating how much energy surrounds the team, tickets to Sunday's game are the most expensive in NFL wild-card round history.

The fans' spirit was always there, even if the Lions weren't able to match it. Those loyal to the Lions slogged through some of the worst of times, keeping up hope with dreams of future glory.

That future appears within Detroit's grasp.

It's Goff's to take.

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.