Even as he racked up victories and Pro Bowl appearances and helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl, quarterback Jared Goff wasn’t taken seriously.
His own team didn’t take him seriously and dealt him, along with two first-round picks, to the Lions for quarterback Matt Stafford in 2021. The Rams were right and wrong at the same time: Stafford led them to a championship in his first season, but Goff was no joke.
He has proved to be far more than a bridge quarterback for the Lions, who appear to think he’s their future. They have bypassed drafting quarterbacks in the first round since landing him.
Goff has been integral to the Lions’ turnaround and is putting together perhaps his best season as he prepares to face the Bears on Sunday. He’s ninth in the NFL with a 99.1 passer rating, and Pro Football Reference ranks him the second-most accurate passer, with 83.2% of his throws charted as on target.
None of that surprises safety Eddie Jackson, the Bears’ longest-tenured defensive player. He was around when the Bears and Rams played regularly early in Goff’s career and considered him a legitimate threat.
‘‘I never thought he was a bad quarterback,’’ Jackson told the Sun-Times. ‘‘Everybody has their opinions, but I always thought he was pretty good, and he’s showing that now.
‘‘They get the ball in their stars’ hands, and he’s making the throws. You let him sit back there comfortably, and he can go through all the reads and make any throw.’’
If he keeps playing like that, Goff will be a problem for the Bears for years. He’s 29 and under contract for next season, and his effectiveness enables the Lions to address other needs in the draft.
Goff never put up monster numbers against the Bears when he played for the Rams, but that’s seemingly all he has done with the Lions.
In three matchups against the Bears before the trade, Goff completed only 56.8% of his passes, never managed more than 220 yards and threw two touchdown passes and five interceptions for a 59.7 passer rating.
Since the trade, he has looked like an MVP all four times he has faced the Bears. Goff has completed 72% of his passes, averaged 240.3 yards and thrown for eight touchdowns with no interceptions for a 118.7 rating.
The Bears’ drastic defensive decline has been a major factor in that, of course. He’s not dealing with prime Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Kyle Fuller anymore.
That said, the Bears have made upgrades since Goff cooked them for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-10 blowout late last season. Goff described their most recent addition, defensive end Montez Sweat, as ‘‘a challenge’’ and noted that the defense looks more aggressive and complex with coach Matt Eberflus calling plays instead of former coordinator Alan Williams.
‘‘They’ve improved greatly,’’ Goff said.
But they’ll have a lot to keep track of.
One reason the Goff trade is working for the Lions is that they’ve put together great infrastructure.
Their offensive line is regarded as the best in the league, and Goff has been sacked only 15 times in nine games. They might have two 1,000-yard rushers in former Bears running back David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is a star who topped 1,000 yards last season, and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta ranks among the top five at his position in catches (47), yards (474) and touchdowns (four).
Plus, their offense is well-run. Jackson marveled at offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s creativity when he watched film this week.
‘‘Some of the stuff you see on film, it’s like, ‘Oh, man,’ ” Jackson said. ‘‘They’ve probably got 100 different screen passes.’’
That’s why Johnson was a head-coaching candidate last offseason and will get even more calls after this season. He’s only 37, but — like Goff and virtually everything else about the Lions — he’s good and getting better.