Will Jared Goff play this weekend against Seattle in a first-round NFL playoff game on Saturday?
That is the big question surrounding the Rams’ postseason plans, and the biggest question involving former Cal players who will participate in playoff games this weekend.
Six NFL playoff games will be played this Saturday and Sunday, and seven former Cal players will be involved as players and three ex-Golden Bears will be part of the action as coaches.
That group does not include former Golden Bears great Aaron Rodgers, whose Packers have a bye this weekend, and Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who is unlikely to play next weekend following a bye because of a back injury that has sidelined him much of the season.
Whether the playoffs will include Goff is conjecture at this point. Goff missed last week’s regular-season finale against the Cardinals after having right-thumb surgery during the week. Rams coach Sean McVay had said last week that Goff might be ready for the playoffs, but on Thursday he would not reveal whether Goff or John Wolford will start against the Seahawks.
Saturday morning the Los Angeles Times posted a story suggesting it still was not known whether Wolford or Goff would start Saturday afternoon's game.
Goff practiced on Wednesday, which was the first time he participated in practice since the surgery. He practiced again Thursday and said after that practice that he feels pretty good. However, it’s not clear whether the decision will be based on Goff’s health or a determination by McVay that Wolford would be better suited to start against the Seahawks. Wolford, 25, was decent, but not great, in the 18-7 win over Arizona last week, which was the first regular-season appearance of his career. He had 231 passing yards with one interception, but, significantly, he led the team with 56 rushing yards.
McVay probably will not reveal his decision until game day.
Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernandez wrote a column that appeared Thursday saying Goff should start if he is able. Here is an excerpt:
If Goff is physically capable of throwing a football, if he can take the field without unreasonably jeopardizing his future, he must play. Period.
However, fans believe Wolford should get the start, according to SB Nation Reacts.
Goff gave a politically correct and somewhat cryptic response on Thursday about whether he will start Saturday: "I'm in the mindset that if I have to play at any point, then I'm ready to play and just continuing to progress well."
Goff is not the only ex-Golden Bears player who will be highlighted this weekend, as the spotlight will also be on Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, a Pro Bowl selection this year.
Jordan, who played at Cal from 2007 through 2010, had 7.5 sacks this season, which was his lowest total since 2016, when he also had 7.5 sacks. However, he will be counted on to pressure Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky in Sunday’s 1:40 p.m. Pacific time game against Chicago in New Orleans.
The Washington Football Team, which hosts the Tampa Buccaneers at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, is filled with former Golden Bears.
The headliner on that list is Washington head coach Ron Rivera, who was an All-American linebacker at Cal as a senior in 1983. He has battled through squamous cell cancer during this season.
Richard Rodgers Sr., the father of Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers Jr., and a prime participant in The Play at Cal in 1982, is Washington’s assistant defensive backs coach, and Vincent Rivera, who played at Cal in 2015 and 2016 and is the nephew of the head coach, is Washington’s defensive quality control coach.
Washington also has three former Golden Bears on its player roster, but the only one certain to play Saturday is long-snapper Nick Sundberg.
Sundberg played in all 16 games for the second straight year, and he is nearly guaranteed to play on Saturday. The only way you will hear his name called, though, if he makes a faulty snap on a punt or place-kick.
Sundberg played in 52 consecutive games while at Cal from 2005 through 2008, and was the Bears’ long snapper all four years.
Two former Cal linebackers are also on the Washington active roster – Jordan Kunasyk and Mychal Kendricks.
Kunaszyk was cut by the Panthers right before the regular season started, then signed with Washington practice squad. (Ron Rivera was Kunaszyk’s head coach last year at Carolina.) Kunaszyk was elevated to the active roster midway through the season.
Kunaszyk, who was an all-Pac-12 selection at Cal in 2018, has not played any snaps on defense this year, but he has been a regular on special teams and has made three tackles in the six games he has played.
Kendricks was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2011 while at Cal, but has run into some legal troubles in recent years.
He started the 2020 season on the Seahawks’ practice squad, but was signed to Washington’s active roster on Dec. 21.
There is an outside chance Kendricks will see action on defense on Saturday since he played eight snaps as a linebacker in the Dec. 27 game against Carolina. That was the only game in which he played this season, and he did not record any tackles.
Elsewhere, Baltimore Ravens center Patrick Mekari, who played at Cal from 2015 to 2018, missed the final regular-season game with a back injury, but he has been a limited participant in practice this week, so there is a chance he will return to the starting lineup for Sunday’s 10 a.m. game against the Tennessee Titans. Mekari started eight games this season, including the final seven games before last Sunday’s absence.
The final former Cal player on an active roster of a playoff team this weekend is Steelers nose guard Tyson Alualu, who will participate in the final playoff game of the weekend – a 5:15 p.m. game against the Browns on Sunday.
Alualu played at Cal from 2006 through 2009, and he started 10 NFL games this season, including the last three. He will be counted on to stifle Cleveland’s strong running game.
Cover photo of Jared Goff by Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports
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