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QB Jared Goff on beating his former team to secure Lions first playoff win in 32 years: 'It's about our team'

There was an uneasiness rumbling at Ford Field in the second half, with Detroit Lions fans watching Matthew Stafford on the verge of breaking their hearts in his old house.

Until Jared Goff completed the biggest pass of his Lions career.

The Rams kept chipping away at the lead the Lions had held since the first five-plus minutes of the game, but when Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown on an 11-yard pass on the backside of the two-minute warning, it officially turned out the Rams' lights.

A few kneeldowns later, it was over: Lions 24, Rams 23. Detroit's first playoff victory in 32 years. And for Goff, a reckoning, closing the game out after it looked to be slipping away.

"Thought he played top-notch football," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said. "He probably had two errors and everything else, I thought he was on point. He looked loose, he looked relaxed. I thought he threw the ball with conviction."

Every chance Goff got after the game, he shifted the rest of the locker room.

"Yeah, it means a lot," Goff said postgame. "This team is special. This team's really special, and it's about our team."

The win means Detroit will be rewarded with another game for their beloved team -- and yes, their quarterback -- thanks to the Cowboys being shocked at home earlier in the day by Green Bay, facing the winner of Philadelphia-Tampa Bay.

A rematch at Dallas could have provided the perfect opportunity for revenge in this storybook season, but another home playoff game? Yeah, that'll work, too.

"I think we all wanted Dallas again, but the fact that we're back here, it's a blessing," Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. "It's going to be fun next weekend."

With fans having chanted his name from the moment he hit the field for pregame warmups, part of what Goff would later call "the best home game atmosphere he has ever experienced," he rewarded them with a fiery start. He hit his first 14 passes and finished the first half 16 for 18 for 194 yards and a touchdown. Goff's TD throw to a less-than-full-strength Sam LaPorta put the Lions up 21-10, which the Rams would cut to 21-17 at the half.

It was shaping up to be a thriller. Stafford and Goff -- two men traded for one another in a now-historic deal -- had traded haymakers in the first half, and it felt like they'd do the same for another 30 minutes.

Things simmered just a bit in the third quarter, as both pass rushes awakened. Each quarterback took sacks and big hits as the teams traded field goals.

In the fourth quarter, Stafford cranked it up. All game long, Lions fans watched as their former quarterback pulled out all his tricks in his first return home as an opponent: sidearm throws, no-look passes and all the bells and whistles.

The locals also knew how many fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives Stafford had led for the Lions back in the day. It looked like it was unfolding that way for Stafford and the Rams in a cruel twist of fate.

Stafford took massive shots from Hutchinson and Alim McNeill on a 4-yard pass to Cooper Kupp late in the third quarter that set up a Rams field goal, cutting the Lions' lead to 24-20. As he jogged off the field, Stafford appeared to favor his right side with his arm tucked in.

Warming up for the next series on the sideline, Stafford was visibly grimacing. But when the Rams got the ball back, Stafford completed four passes on the next drive, including a beauty to Puka

Nacua for 22 yards to the Detroit 13-yard line, as the Rams settled for another field goal.

Goff, meanwhile, went cold, overthrowing Josh Reynolds for what could have been a huge conversion -- a second straight Lions punt late in a tight game.

Was it all collapsing?

As good as St. Brown was, the Rams' Nacua (nine catches, 181 yards, TD) was an even tougher cover. Stafford struck back with a 35-yard completion to Nacua, who broke Kerby Joseph's tackle to bust it loose. All the momentum had shifted to the Rams midway through the fourth quarter.

Stafford had Nacua again for what could have been a massive third-down conversion, but Nacua -- with Cameron Sutton tugging on his jersey -- couldn't haul it in. The Rams were forced to punt with just over four minutes left.

This was Goff's chance to close it out, and the stakes couldn't have been higher. Stafford and the Rams beat the Lions in their first meeting in 2021, then went on to win the Super Bowl. But this was more than about Goff vs. Stafford -- it was about his standing with the Lions, a team whose dream season lay in the delicate balance.

After David Montgomery picked up the all-important initial first down on a swing pass, making the Rams' Michael Hoecht whiff on his tackle attempt, the Lions ran it one more time. Rams coach Sean McVay didn't use one of his three remaining timeouts on the front side of the two-minute warning, however, allowing more than 30 seconds to run off the clock.

McVay, once Goff's right-hand man for many years, once making a Super Bowl together, was sending a message: We're going to stop you here.

After all, Goff hadn't completed a pass at that point in nearly a whole quarter. He'd taken a few big sacks amid heavy pressure. Failing to convert on the next two plays would mean Stafford getting the ball back.

Goff scoffed. The Lions called a play that St. Brown told NBC's Melissa Stark postgame that the Lions "have run all year … and I knew he was coming to me."

The Rams sent a five-man pressure on second down, with man defense behind it. St. Brown had a good matchup against Rams safety Quentin Lake, but Goff needed to get the ball there with a slightly longer-developing route.

With the Rams' Byron Young bearing down on Goff, maybe a split second away from interfering with his throw, Goff delivered the shot heard 'round Detroit. It wasn't his prettiest pass of the night or his longest. But it was his most important in the context of the Detroit Lions. Specifically, these Lions.

"I obviously had some personal connections there, but it's about our team, and it's about the 2023 Lions," Goff told Stark. "I know we just broke a (playoff winless) streak that's been going on for 30 years, but it's about this squad. It's about the people in this locker room, in this building. It's about our head coach, Dan Campbell and what he infuses into all of us, and it's about us."

McVay praised his former protege.

"Jared was really efficient," McVay said. "You can see the command that he has. You know, I think there's a lot made of (their relationship), but I'm really happy for him. Obviously, we wanted to come away with the win, but he's done a great job.

"I think the grit, the resilience, the way that he's done his thing here over the last three years -- I'm happy for Jared. I'm certainly appreciative of the four years we had together."

In a highly charged, emotional environment for all parties, Goff could hold his head high. He finished the game with a very clean sheet: 22 of 27 passing for 277 yards and a touchdown, and no turnovers, with important first-half contributions from his one-time Rams teammate Reynolds (five catches, 80 yards) and an incredible game from St. Brown.

For Campbell, Goff's steady hand set the tone for the Lions -- and not just on Sunday night.

"He just was locked in all week," Campbell said. "He's really been that way for six weeks now, like where you really feel like, woo, he's really honed in here.

"Just really proud of him and what he means to us and his play today. … He's one of the reasons that we won this division, and he's another reason why we just won our first playoff game here in 30 years. What a stud."

Goff's secret? He took the focus off himself as best he could and focused his energies more broadly.

"I just kept going back to what this game was about, and it was about us," Goff said. "It was not about them. It was not about me. It was not about my history there. It wasn't about anyone on their team or any coaches. It was about us. It was about the 53 in this locker room, our coaches and this organization getting a playoff win in front of our home crowd."

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