February 23, 2024

Jared Goff telegraphed this pass.

We should have known he would flip a U-turn in the Motor City, leading the Detroit Lions to their first playoff victory in 32 years.

He was a big part of dramatic turnarounds in college and with the Rams but this is different. The Detroit Lions are Goff’s team. Their offense runs through him. And on a monumental stage Sunday night, he came through in a huge way, leading the Lions to a 24-23 victory.

For the first time, the Ford Field crowd chanted his name and vigorously booed Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, a legendary Lion. It was nothing personal, but the stakes were that high and this was a landmark moment.

All the Rams were loudly booed as they emerged in position groups from the locker-room tunnel. A parade of Teslas would be received more warmly in this automotive capital.

Goff felt the love from the hometown fans.

“This place is special to me, these people are special,” he said. “That’s the best home atmosphere I’ve ever played in front of. I expect next week to be on top of that, or second.”

That there is a “next week” for the Lions is a testament to Goff, who completed his first 10 passes on his way to a turnover-free, 277-yard performance. Detroit will host the noon PST game Sunday against the winner of Monday’s game involving Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.

“He looked loose, he looked relaxed,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said of Goff. “I thought he threw the ball with conviction, was strong in the pocket, got us into the right play, and he felt that way all week.

“He’s one of the reasons that we won this division and he’s another reason why we just won our first playoff game here in 30 years, so what a stud.”

Detroit quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks off the field after the Lions defeated the Rams.

Detroit quarterback Jared Goff (16) walked off Ford Field as the winner against his former team, the Rams, and the Lions’ former quarterback, Matthew Stafford.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Operating out of his territory with 2 minutes left, Goff completed an 11-yard pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown that essentially clinched the game. It gave the Lions a first down and forced the Rams to use their final timeout.

Three kneel-downs later and the game was over.

Check out Goff’s history. When he was at the University of California, his teams went from 1-11 his freshman season to winning a bowl game. The No. 1 overall pick played sparingly for the 4-12 Rams during his rookie year but found himself in the Super Bowl two years later.

And while Stafford was guiding the Rams to a Super Bowl victory two years ago, Goff and his new Detroit teammates were slogging through a 3-13-1 season.

But it was clear from the wild ovation he received Sunday night that Goff has found a home in Detroit. He’s a rock star here, even though he’s the same slim, unassuming, sleepy-eyed guy people knew in Los Angeles.

“I feel like it just confirms for everybody what we already know,” Lions tackle Taylor Decker said. “He’s a special player and we wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.”

About half an hour after the game, wearing his uniform pants, a gray Lions T-shirt and flip-flops, he did a live interview for a national broadcast, then got a warm greeting from a handful of people from the Rams. Tim McVay, father of coach Sean McVay, came over to congratulate him. So did Brendan Burger, Rams equipment director.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff meets with former Rams teammate Cooper Kupp.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff, right, meets with former Rams teammate Cooper Kupp (10) before their NFC wild-card game.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Then Goff shared a bear hug and longer conversation with Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, who hobbled off the field after a low hit flipped him on his head. Higbee suffered a knee injury but the extent was not immediately known.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Goff said. “Him sustaining the injury he did is hard. It’s hard for me to sit on the sidelines and watch that. But he’ll be just fine and I love him.”

Also evident, the love Detroit fans have for Goff. The ear-splitting ovation he received during pregame introductions had Ford Field shaking. That ceremony, in general, was overwhelming to at least one Lions player.

“I had to do some little breathing exercises to slow me down because I was getting too hyped,” tackle Penei Sewell said. “Truly. I loved it, though.”

Goff had a signature moment near the end of the game. After taking that first knee, he turned to the end zone closest to him, threw his arms in the air and basked in the cheers.

“It was surreal,” he said. “It was something you imagined for so long, from the moment I got here you imagined getting that playoff win and having this type of atmosphere in front of our home crowd. To be able to sit on the ball like that and finish it out.”

Ex-Ram turned X-Factor.

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