ATLANTA — In the biggest NFL game yet for the boy genius of a coach, every cynical view of his star pupil at quarterback played out in a most glaring manner.
Maybe the Rams should have had SpongeBob SquarePants lead a drive or two Sunday.
He had a better night than Jared Goff.
Nobody on the offensive side of Los Angeles is immune to criticism after their flop in Super Bowl LIII, a 13-3 loss to the Patriots before 70,081 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that saw Tom Brady create more New England history and Goff overmatched in his maiden appearance of a season’s final game.
“It sucked that it went that way,” Goff said. “I’ll use it as a learning experience.”
He has a few semesters worth of homework coming.
One of the worst Super Bowls in memory for your aesthetic viewing pleasure was a battle of punters much of the night, and a perplexing halftime show that at one point paid tribute to SpongeBob didn’t help ratchet up the excitement decibel.
It was the lowest combined points in Super Bowl history, and a big part of that was Goff being confused, a masterful defensive game plan by the Patriots and coach Bill Belichik that swallowed the opposing quarterback whole.
Goff was a deer in the headlights and New England an oncoming Ford F-150 flirting with 100 mph.
The truck won.
The Rams pushed back all season on the narrative that Goff is a system quarterback, merely another piece to the offensive mastermind of 33-year-old coach Sean McVay, insisting such a viewpoint was a discredit to all Goff had accomplished since being drafted No. 1 in 2016.
Maybe, maybe not, but the system failed on all levels against New England, and McVay shares in the blame. He insisted the past few weeks that Todd Gurley and his injured knee were fine, but then directed a game in which his star running back received just 10 touches.
Which means Gurley was hurt or McVay called the worst game of his life.
“I didn’t do a good enough job for us,” McVay said. “We didn’t get anyone going offensively, and that starts with me. I’m still kind of numb. I definitely got outcoached.”
He put the onus on Goff to perform, and the onus stunk.
Goff completed 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards, and his one interception was an awful underthrow when trying to rally the Rams from seven down with 4:17 remaining, picked by cornerback Stephon Gilmore at the Patriots’ 4-yard line.
Belichick sent a safety blitz, and Goff lofted the pass skyward.
He panicked is what happened.
Deer … meet Ford F-150.
Gilmore: “I knew he was going to throw it up there. I knew he was going to force it in there.”
Goff: “That’s all on me. I have to be better.”
He was off all night. He missed open receivers. He didn’t see others. He took bad sacks.
He — get this — had a false start called on him.
Goff’s passer rating was a forgettable 57.9, and the Rams were 3 of 13 on third downs. He was 5 of 12 for 52 yards in the first half, and 18 of those came on a pass to Robert Woods that might have been incomplete, but the Patriots chose not to challenge.
The Rams’ defense held up as long as it could, but when Goff couldn’t sustain anything and it had to continue going out there on little rest against Brady in the Super Bowl, you knew things eventually would go bad.
They did in the fourth quarter, when the lone player now to win six of these games led consecutive Patriots scoring drives to secure victory.
“I’m a guy that believes in adversity and what it can do to you, and it’s going to be important for (Goff) to respond to this the right way,” Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “Knowing the kid, he will. This will make him a stronger player, and I have no doubt with (McVay’s) direction, Jared is going to be a special football player.”
Can you only be part of a system when the offense you led this season ranked second in the NFL in scoring and total yards while you threw for 4,688 yards with 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions?
Given what we saw Sunday, probably. Goff, despite those gaudy numbers, isn’t a quarterback who can ad-lib when things break down. He’s not going to challenge Patrick Mahomes in a creativity contest any lifetime soon.
He needs things simple, scripted, straightforward, and trying to beat a Belichick defense in the Super Bowl was too big a challenge.
Look. Goff was terrible.
He also is just 24, but whether the Rams are all-in on committing the sort of money and future salary-cap hits that a franchise quarterback warrants isn’t known.
Tell you what, if Sunday’s game tape has anything to do with such a decision in the coming year, Goff should hope someone edits it to only show the part with SpongeBob.
The yellow squishy fellow had a better night.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.