By GREG BEACHAM
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Jared Goff was 7 years old when Tom Brady beat the Rams to win his first Super Bowl in early 2002. The kid has been a fan of the superstar ever since.
Goff is now 24, the same age as Brady was then. When Brady plays in his ninth Super Bowl next weekend in Atlanta for the New England Patriots, Goff will be on the other sideline for Los Angeles, neither star-struck nor cocky.
Their 17-year age gap is the biggest between starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history. Yet the passing years apparently mean little to Brady, and they’re just as unimportant to Goff, who sees no advantage in his youth and no disadvantage in his inexperience.
“It’s a guy that you’ve looked up to for so long,” Goff said Thursday. “Now I get a chance to play in one with him. We do respect him, but I’m going to go out there and do my best and be the best I can be, and hopefully come out with a win.”
Both quarterbacks will be under a relentless spotlight in the next week. Brady lives his life under that glare, while Goff is still getting used to it after just three years of being a No. 1 overall pick who stumbled early, but grew quickly into a successful quarterback.
Goff doesn’t admit to seeing this Super Bowl as a chance to step into Brady’s echelon as one of the league’s elite passers, even if that’s what much of the football world is telling him. But after Goff led the Rams to 24 wins and two playoff victories over the past two years, the Rams already think he’s there.
“We’re very confident in his ability to lead us, knowing that it’s a big game,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I think Jared will be himself, which is exactly what we want him to be.”
Goff and Brady are from different generations, but the quarterbacks have a few things in common.
They’re both from the Bay Area, with Brady growing up on the Peninsula and Goff in Marin County. Neither was a can’t-miss NFL prospect heading into college, but neither let it stop him.
Already the winningest quarterback in NFL history, Brady will play in his 40th playoff game in Atlanta. Goff is playing in his fourth, but he is riding the momentum of his first two career postseason victories in the past two games.
Goff didn’t have many plays on his shoulders two weeks ago when the Rams’ ground game ran over the Dallas Cowboys. He played a larger role in the Rams’ wild victory over the Saints, and he emerged with the renewed respect of his coaches and teammates.
Goff clearly has the arm and the ability to succeed in McVay’s offense. In New Orleans last weekend, he demonstrated his ability to do more.
“It’s big, I think, anytime you can go into an atmosphere like that, go down 13 (points) early, and then show the poise and perseverance and get through adversity the way we did and be able to come out on top late in the game,” Goff said.
It wasn’t his best performance of the season, but it was probably the most satisfying.
Goff went 25 of 40 for 297 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Saints. More importantly, he calmly rallied the Rams from an early 13-point deficit, and he made enough big plays down the stretch to keep the Rams in contention in that topsy-turvy game.
“What stood out was the way that he was able to weather the storm,” McVay said. “The mental toughness was displayed by the team as a whole, and Jared kind of personified that with the way that he handled the game, his overall command, making big throws when we needed it the most. … Jared (showed) his ability to be at his best when his best was required. The competitive greatness showed up in a big way.”
Goff and Brady have only faced each other once before. In December 2016, Brady became the NFL’s career victories leader in a 26-10 victory at New England, while Goff threw two interceptions in his third career start.
Goff met Brady for the first time at that game. They’re friendly, but not yet close.
When asked if it feels surreal to be heading toward a Super Bowl showdown with the mighty Patriots and a quarterback who has been winning championships for his entire life, Goff stifled a grin.
“No,” he replied. “I’ve played these guys before.”