The Detroit Lions’ locker room roiled with joy, and in the middle of it all, head coach Dan Campbell held court, his voice as shredded as a torn jersey.
“Dude, how electric was it out there?” Campbell bellowed after the Lions had beaten the Los Angeles Rams for Detroit's first playoff victory in 32 years. “I’m telling you what. It doesn’t get any better. It’s everything you dreamed of and more.”
Then Campbell took a moment to recognize two individuals who brought Detroit to this ecstatic moment. The first was general manager Brad Holmes. The second: a guy whom Holmes brought to Detroit and Campbell turned loose on the NFL.
“I’ll just say it like this,” Campbell said. “You’re good enough for f***ing Detroit, Jared Goff.”
You can trace the spirit of these Lions back to Campbell’s infamous “biting kneecaps” news conference on Jan. 21, 2021. To the delight of cynics and smug football knowers, Campbell snarled his way through his introduction and promised that better days were ahead.
The spine of this team, though, started forming 10 days later, when Holmes shipped Matthew Stafford to the Rams in exchange for a 2022 first-rounder, a 2023 first-rounder … oh, and Goff, too.
The trade won plenty of praise for Detroit, largely because of those draft picks. Goff? Eh, better than nothing, right? Right … ?
There was little expectation outside Detroit that Goff would do anything more than occupy a roster spot. After a strong start in Los Angeles, including two Pro Bowl appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl, he struggled in 2019 and 2020 and was eventually benched. His relationship with Rams head coach Sean McVay bottomed out, and he wasn’t exactly heartbroken to leave Los Angeles.
McVay, for his part, acknowledged the rift last week. “He deserved better than the way it all went down, I’ll acknowledge that, and I think he knows that, too,” McVay said of Goff. “I’m not afraid to admit to those things. But I think we’re all better for going through those things. I know I have more appreciation for him as time goes on.”
So does the rest of the NFL. After a rocky start to the Campbell era, Goff — and the rest of the team — locked in and stepped up. Goff was named to the Pro Bowl last season and played even better this season, ranking second in passing yards with 4,575, fourth in touchdowns with 30 and fifth (among full-time starters) in completion percentage at 67.3. Detroit’s overall offense ranked third in the league, and its passing offense ranked second.
Oh, and those draft picks acquired with Goff became familiar 2023 playmakers. Detroit flipped the 2022 pick (and others) into wide receiver Jameson Williams and cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu and the 2023 pick (and others) into running back Jahmyr Gibbs and tight end Sam LaPorta … a decent haul, in other words.
Goff, for his part, isn’t publicly worried about proving anyone wrong. “It was about us. It was not about them,” Goff said after Sunday night’s victory. “It was not about me, it was not about my history there, it wasn’t about anyone on their team or any coaches. It was about us. It was about the 53 in this locker room, our coaches and this organization getting a playoff win in front of our home crowd.”
With possibly more to come. This week, Detroit isn’t going anywhere, as Tampa Bay comes to town for the divisional round. Looking too far ahead has doomed several teams already in these playoffs, but Tampa Bay had the league’s fourth-worst passing defense in the 2023 regular season. Goff will get his chances, without a doubt.
Right now, in this moment, in this postseason, Goff is more than good enough. For Detroit, he might just be the key to the unthinkable.