By GREG BEACHAM
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Although Jared Goff is uncomfortable being overly nosy when he’s around the NFL’s best quarterbacks, he kept a close eye on Drew Brees while they were together at the Pro Bowl in Orlando last year.
The most prolific passer in NFL history had no problem sharing aspects of his mental approach and game-day preparation with Goff, who was eager for knowledge a few weeks after taking a loss in his first career playoff game for the Los Angeles Rams.
“I wasn’t going to pry too deeply,” Goff said. “But I’d ask him a few questions as far as his warmup, and things he does throughout the week.”
While Goff admires Brees, Tom Brady and the other top quarterbacks of this era, he is more interested in the mental mechanics of their game than in their arms, achievements or trophies. Goff wants to know how they prepare, and he seeks out tips on film study, game-morning arm exercises — anything he can put into his own evolving approach to the game.
“The thing about Jared is that he’s always looking to get better,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He doesn’t look at our record or his success and think he’s made it.”
Goff’s rough rookie season has vanished into history as he heads into his first NFC championship game with the Rams (14-3) against Brees and the New Orleans Saints (14-3) on Sunday. While McVay clearly deserves much of the credit for Goff’s swift evolution from a struggling No. 1 overall pick into an above-average NFL passer, Goff’s adaptability and eagerness to learn are just as important as his arm strength.
“I think I rely on a lot of the successes I’ve had, and understand that I didn’t do that on accident,” Goff said. “It’s part of my process, and part of what I do routinely.”
The same quarterback who went 0-7 as a rookie starter while getting sacked 26 times is now a two-time Pro Bowl selection at the helm of an elite NFL offense. The Rams have won their first back-to-back division titles since the 1970s during his two full seasons as their starter, and they earned their first playoff victory in 14 years last weekend.
“You talk about a guy who stays even-keeled,” Rams receiver Brandin Cooks said. “He operates with such a quieted mind, no matter what’s going on. The ebbs and flows of the game, he seems to stay even-keeled, and when you have that from your quarterback, that’s special.”
Despite his impressive success over the past two seasons, Goff still has more to prove than the other three quarterbacks playing this Sunday. Brees and Brady have accomplished nearly everything possible behind center, while Patrick Mahomes just completed a spectacular season that has left him the league MVP favorite.
Brees was happy to speak with Goff at last year’s Pro Bowl even while knowing they were likely to be rivals atop the NFC for the next few seasons. Brees remembered Doug Flutie’s willingness to mentor him in San Diego.
“I want to make sure that I pay it forward, just like those guys did with me,” the 40-year-old Brees said.
Brees praises Goff as an outstanding passer and an emerging leader. He also sees intricacies to Goff’s performances that others might not.
“You watch what they do with their offense, there’s a lot of moving parts, and I think he handles it very, very well,” Brees said. “I think he creates great timing and rhythm in the passing game.”
Goff was fourth in the NFL with 4,688 yards passing this season, and his 32 TD passes were sixth. Yet his season arguably peaked with his 413 yards and four TD passes in the Rams’ epic Monday night victory over Kansas City in late November, leading into a December in which he didn’t exactly distinguish himself.
In the Rams’ final five regular-season games, Goff averaged just 228.2 yards per game with six TD passes against six interceptions and nine sacks. The Rams took two of their three losses all season during that stretch, with Goff memorably throwing four interceptions in the freezing cold of Chicago.
“It was a bad game or two, and I hate having to talk about it,” Goff said. “But if (reporters) keep asking about it, you can call it three (bad games) if you want. If you’re going to (criticize) three out of 16, I’m OK with that.”
McVay also rejects the notion Goff had a slow finish to the regular season, noting the external perception of a quarterback’s performance can be altered by something as arbitrary as a couple of tipped passes turning into interceptions instead of incompletions.
“I think everybody wants to make a big deal of the way that he was playing,” McVay said. “I think in large part it’s because he was playing at such an elite level, he almost became a victim of his own success. But he really didn’t fall off at all. I think it was just some of those things that bounced one way or the other, and then defensive guys made some good plays.”
NOTES: After two days of intermittent heavy rains, the Rams practiced under 64-degree sunshine at their training complex. … The Rams won’t leave for New Orleans until Saturday. McVay said he made the decision to keep the Rams on a particular schedule for a game kicking off at 12 p.m. Pacific time. … The Rams’ injury report was completely empty for the third straight day.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Metairie, Louisiana, contributed to this report.