Jared Goff could have pouted when the Rams jettisoned him. Instead he's led the Lions to the verge of the playoffs

Jared Goff hails from Marin County, California, played college football at the University of California, and in 2016 was the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams, the franchise’s first selection upon returning to California.

On draft night, his chosen walk-out song to shake Roger Goodell’s hand was, appropriately, “California Love” by 2Pac and Dr. Dre. Goff was, no doubt, confident he would find his NFL glory in a state where you never find a dance floor empty.

And he did, at least for a while. He led the Rams to the playoffs three times in his five seasons, including the Super Bowl loss to New England following the 2018 season. Yet in 2021, the Rams didn’t believe Goff was their best option at quarterback.

They shipped their one-time future of the franchise and a bunch of draft choices to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, who promptly led them to a Super Bowl title. That meant last year, Goff had to watch his old teammates become champions while he was stuck on a miserable, three-win Lions team in the midst of another rebuild.

As career script flips go, this one could have turned as bitter a Midwestern winter.

Everyone wants to say they would act as a professional. Everyone wants to think they would still see the incredible opportunity to be a NFL starter. Everyone wants to believe they would work just as hard, care just as much or carry themselves just as professionally.

Still, reality is different. We’ve seen plenty of careers crater under similar circumstances. It got even worse when the Lions started 1-6 and the talk was about what college quarterback the Lions might draft to replace him.

Even the most strong-minded might wobble.

Well, all of that was seven games, six victories and an improbable run to playoff contender status ago.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Goff said.

The Detroit Lions are making noise in the playoff hunt, and it's thanks in no small part to Jared Goff (16). (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

That certainly includes Sunday, when on fourth-and-inches with 1:51 remaining, Goff hit tight end Brock Wright for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown to give Detroit a 20-17 victory over the New York Jets. The victory pushed the Lions to 7-7 on the season and put them in excellent position to challenge for a playoff spot no one saw coming.

As rough emotionally as last year must have been for Goff, there aren’t many quarterbacks in the league having a more enjoyable time right now.

There is nothing in football better than winning the Super Bowl, and Goff will probably always wish he stayed with the Rams and won one there. That isn’t how life worked out.

Perhaps the second-best experience in football is the euphoria of an unexpected winner on the rise, the magic and excitement and energy that comes with finding an identity and exceeding all reasonable expectations for a long-suffering fan base.

In other words, no one has had it better the last two months than Jared Goff and the Lions.

“It’s fun to be on a team that’s winning games,” Goff said. “Sure I’m doing some good things but we’ve won a lot of big games recently with the same guys that were part of the 1-6 and part of last season.”

It’s unlikely the on-field success was possible without the off-field dignity he displayed since getting jettisoned by the Rams.

Rather than pout, he poured himself into improvement, projecting positivity and taking ownership of the team.

Rather than pine for life back on the West Coast, he planted roots in Detroit — raising money through his JG16 Foundation, working with local education initiatives and scholarship drives and donating some 40,000 pounds of food to charity kitchens. He’s a nominee for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

Maybe fans and media weren’t sure if Goff would be a Lion long-term — and who knows, maybe he won’t — but he never acted like he wouldn't. If Detroit looked like a demotion to others, he certainly never behaved that way.

Goff was asked last week about never lashing out about his fate, his disappointment or at his critics. He just scoffed.

“What would I lash out about?” he asked.

Perfect answer.

“I really just enjoy winning with these guys,” he said. “Whatever people may have said earlier on in the year, they were probably justified in some ways. We were 1-6 and not playing very well. Now we are playing pretty well. Everyone seems to have changed on us; we try to stay in the middle.”

Detroit has two first-round picks in the 2023 NFL draft and the selection that arrives via the Rams could be in the top five. The long-held thought was that the Lions should use it on a potential franchise quarterback, but this draft may prove short of sure-things at that position.

Goff has done his part to be not just a place-holder but the potential future. He is just 28, under contract for two more seasons and the idea of Detroit adding another elite defender — a Will Anderson of Alabama or a Jalen Carter of Georgia — to an improving unit anchored by rookie Aidan Hutchinson is rather appealing.

Those decisions will come.

Right now, Detroit is in a euphoric state, contending for a playoff spot that seemed hopeless as recently as early November behind a quarterback who was sent reeling by the Rams.

It wasn’t easy. This isn’t California.

In some ways, though, considering the challenges, it might be even better.