Former Cal quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff will go against each other for the third time in their NFL careers on Monday night, and the circumstances of each meeting have been very different.
In the Monday night spotlight game between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, Rodgers will try to show that his horrible showing in the Packers’ 38-3 loss to the Saints was an aberration, while Goff hopes to demonstrate that his fourth-quarter surge in the Lions’ 41-33 loss to the 49ers was indicative of what he can do for his new team.
Rodgers and Goff are both Northern California products – Goff from Novato, Rodgers from Chico – and both were fans of the San Francisco 49ers growing up.
Goff started every game in his three seasons at Cal (2013-2015) and holds virtually every school passing record. Rodgers played two years at Cal (2003-2004) and wasn’t a starter until his fifth game with the Bears, but he finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2004 when he led the Bears to a final No. 9 ranking.
Both were first-round NFL draft picks. However, Goff, the son of two Cal alumni and a frequent spectator at Cal home games growing up, was disappointed as a 10-year-old when the 49ers took Alex Smith instead of Rodgers with the No. 1 pick of the 2005 draft.
Rodgers was not taken until the 24th pick, and offered this warning:
Goff was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and became a starter for the Rams 10 games into his rookie season. Rodgers did not become a starter until his fourth NFL season, while Goff had been selected to the Pro Bowl twice in his first three seasons.
By the time Rodgers faced Goff for the first time in the NFL, Rodgers had already won the MVP award twice, but it was Goff who came into that 2018 game as the star.
Goff was in his third NFL season and looking like an MVP candidate just two weeks past his 24th birthday, and he outplayed Rodgers, who was a 35-year-old veteran whose career seemed to be on the decline in the Rams’ 29-27 victory over the Packers on Oct. 28, 2018.
Goff threw three touchdown passes in that game and Rodgers had just one as the Rams improved to 8-0 in a season that ended with a Super Bowl berth. Meanwhile, the Packers slipped to 3-3-1 on their way to a 6-9-1 finish that made folks wonder whether Rodgers’ career was reaching an end following an injury-plagued season.
However, the roles were reversed when Rodgers and Goff faced each other for the second time two years later, in a second-round game of last season’s NFL playoffs.
Heading into that Jan. 16, 2021 game, the 37-year-old Rodgers was the presumptive 2020 MVP and the Packers were the No. 1 NFC seed following a 13-3 regular season. The Rams had limped in as a wild-card playoff team, and Goff, who had struggled throughout the 2020 season, would not have been the Rams starter against Green Bay if little-known John Wolford had not been sidelined with a neck injury suffered the previous week.
The Packers advanced without much trouble, handing the Rams a 32-18 defeat, and Rodgers outplayed Goff. Rodgers was 23-for-36 for 296 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks and a 108.1 passer rating. Goff played pretty well, completing 21-of-27 passes for 174 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 105.9 passer rating. However, he was sacked four times.
But the Rams had shown little confidence in Goff that season and made it clear they needed an upgrade at the quarterback position. Not long after the loss to Green Bay, the Rams were willing to give up two first-round draft picks and a third-round pick along with Goff in a trade package to get rid of Goff and acquire Matthew Stafford from the Lions.
Rodgers spent the offseason in a dispute with the Packers, saying he did not want to play for Green Bay anymore. He finally agreed to play for the Packers, but had one of the worst performances of his career in last week’s season-opening loss.
He threw two interceptions with no touchdown passes in a game that produced the Packers’ biggest margin of defeat ever in a game in which Rodgers was the starter. He was replaced by Jordan Love with more than 10 minutes left.
---See a video of Aaron Rodgers' Thursday press conference at the end of this article.---
More indicative of Rodgers’ performance was that his passer rating of 36.8 was by far the worst of any NFL quarterback in Week One. In fact, it was Rodgers’ fourth-worst passer rating of his career in games in which he started, and he left with an injury in the first half of one of the three worse games.
It should be noted, however, that Rodgers posted a 35.4 passer rating in last year’s regular-season game against Tampa Bay, when he had two picks and no touchdowns, then went on to win the MVP.
Goff does not expect Rodgers to be affected by his poor performance in the opener.
"Anytime you play against a guy of his caliber, a Hall of Fame player, as good as he is, it's a challenge," Goff said Thursday.
Meanwhile, experts were projecting a dismal 2021 season for the Lions and Goff, and his debut as Detroit’s starting quarterback looked like a disaster until the final six minutes.
When the Lions got the ball at their own 14-yard line with 5:45 remaining in the game, Detroit trailed the 49ers 41-17. But Goff completed 16 of his next 20 passes to nearly complete a remarkable comeback. First he engineered an 86-yard drive to make it 41-25. Then, after a successful onside kick, he led a 59-yard drive for a touchdown that made it 41-33 with 1:10 remaining. He completed passes for two-point conversions after each of those scores. Detroit got the ball back at its own 30-yard line with 52 seconds left, and Goff led the Lions to a first down at the 49ers' 25-yard line with 32 seconds to go. But that was as close as Detroit got.
He finished 38-for-57 for 338 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a decent 92.6 passer rating, a performance that made him a star in Fantasy leagues.
Fantasy Pros ranks Goff third in quarterback Fantasy points after one game, behind only Kyler Murray and Patick Mahomes and ahead of Tom Brady. Meanwhile, Rodgers is 34th in quarterback Fantasy points, behind the likes of Taylor Heinicke, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones and rookies Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones.
Nonetheless, Fantasy “experts” are still predicting that Rodgers will have a more productive Fantasy performance on Monday than Goff. That’s partly because the Lions’ defense is lousy and partly because Rodgers’ Game One showing is being seen as a fluke.
Afterall, Rodgers was ranked the second-best quarterback in the NFL in preseason rankings from several sources, while Goff was ranked no better than 23rd.
Of course, if Rodger puts up another stinker on Monday, questions about his commitment and preparation will arise based on his offseason holdout and demands to be traded.
If Goff has a big game at the same time, there may debate about which is the more dominant quarterback from Cal.
Aaron Rodgers' press conferences are always interesting
Cover photo of Aaron Rodgers by Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports
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