It’s the biggest game of the season.
Two-hundred million pairs of eyes, a new record, are tuned into Super Bowl LXII in the Meadowlands.
Fourth and twelve.
Ball on the 16-yard line.
Five seconds left.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff surveys the defense.
To the causal fan, it might look like a simple 4-3 Cover 2 defense. However, Goff, a nine-time Pro Bowler, knows better than to fall for the Raiders’ defensive disguises.
He knows that the two Moneybackers, or safety/middle linebacker hybrids, are about to drop back in coverage, freeing up defensive back Jalen Ramsey to blitz from Goff’s weak-side.
Normally, Goff would have left tackle Everett Johnson looking out for him.
Goff trusts Johnson with his life; after all, they are both University of California alumni.
Why is this all important?
Goff doesn’t trust Johnson’s backup, especially after he gave up the sack to make it 4th and 12.
With one timeout left, Goff quickly signals to running back Ty Mitchell, who shifts to Goff’s left in anticipation of Ramsey’s blitz.
Mitchell isn’t the best blocker, not nearly as good as former Ram and future Hall of Famer Todd Gurley, but it’s the best option Goff has right now.
Raiders’ linebacker and defensive captain Deion Jones barks out signals in turn, which causes Ramsey to take two steps back.
Goff takes one last peak at the play clock before shouting over the deafening crowd, “Turbo, set HUT!”
No one budges.
Goff turns and makes a hand signal to the referee.
The tweet of the whistle can barely be heard as the referee shouts:
“TIMEOUT, LOS ANGELES.”
Goff unclips his chin strap and trots over to Head Coach Sean McVay.
“I was really hoping we’d get them to jump,” Goff says to his longtime coach.
McVay shrugged, “Ed runs a tight ship over there.” Obviously referring to Raiders’ Head Coach Ed Reed and his number-one ranked defense.
“Ramsey wants to come in hot,” says Goff, “We should send some crossing routes his way.”
McVay nods and looks directly at his quarterback. The two have been through a lot together.
The pressure of following up a Super Bowl win can take a toll on a franchise, let alone it’s head coach and quarterback.
For McVay and Goff, it’s been three years since they hoisted their third Lombardi trophy.
After last season’s first-round blowout to the Giants, some were wondering if the NFL’s winningest-team of the past decade had finally run out of steam.
The day after that dreadful two-interception performance by Goff, Twitter was trending with things like #LAidToRest and #GoffIsGone. Some even questioned if the Rams should resign the 33-year old Goff.
To McVay, it was never a question.
When the Rams inked Goff to a fully-guaranteed $132 million contract over three years ($44 million a year), Rams nation was predictably divided.
Sure, Goff had helped re-establish football in Los Angeles.
Yes, Goff is a three-time MVP who owns the single season record for passing yards with 5,628.
But he did just throw the most interceptions in his career (thirteen).
Not to mention that backup quarterback, and pending free agent, Aaron McLaughlin excelled during the four games Goff missed due to a knee injury back in October.
Nonetheless, with 16 yards standing between the Rams and football glory, there was no one McVay would rather say the following three words to:
“It’s your call.”
Goff turns and ponders for a couple seconds before facing McVay and saying, “Let’s give ‘em Ghost.”
McVay nods before sending Goff back out to the field. The three-time Coach of the Year didn’t need to tell his All-Pro quarterback to relax. McVay knew that there was no better person to have in this intense, crucial situation than Goff.
Goff jogs back to the huddle where the ten other men were waiting anxiously for the play-call.
The veteran looks around at twenty eyes all zeroed in on him.
It’s one of the toughest, most intense situations in all of sports.
Coaches tell them not to think about it, but the gravity of the situation was weighing down on eleven sweaty, exhausted men who would prefer to be bathing in champagne later rather than sorrow.
A championship is not just the culmination of a year’s worth of grit, pain, and hard-work; for some, it’s validation.
To have the label ‘Champion’ associated with your name notifies the world that you’ve finally made it.
So, with the weight of that world watching, crushing his shoulders, Goff cracks a smile.
“Three Out Slot Hat 73 Ghost,” Goff pauses. “On two.”
The Rams’ starting unit claps their hands and move towards the line of scrimmage, with the ball anxiously waiting on the left hash.
“Yo,” veteran receiver, and Goff’s closest friend, Cooper Kupp jogs over to his quarterback, “You ready?”
Goff smirks, “Just like playing catch, baby.”
Kupp smiles and nods before jogging over to the right slot position. His route calls for a slant over the middle in an attempt to entice strong safety Xavier McKinney to zone in on Kupp and not receiver N’Keal Harry, who will be sprinting down the left sideline.
Everett lines up on the left side of the offensive line in preparation for an eight-yard in route.
Lining up outside of Kupp is superstar Tre’Quan Smith, who will run a post.
Mitchell lines up on the right next to Goff in the backfield, but he’ll motion to the left when Goff lifts up his right knee.
Goff scans the field once his teammates get into position, but before he gets the snap off, Jones starts yelling out signals again.
“HUSKY! LOOK LEFT, LOOK LEFT!”
The defense shuffles a little bit.
Goff looks up and notices Ramsey, who was showing a blitz before, is no longer showing a blitz on the right side.
Goff looks at Kupp and scratches his right leg, indicating for Kupp to run a corner route to the front right pylon, rather than his deep slant in the middle.
Half of the crowd goes silent, but the deafening roar of the other half makes their quiet efforts null.
“TURBO!” Goff’s right knee goes up.
Mitchell motions left.
No one flinches.
The ball spins through the air and lands in Goff’s outstretched hands.
The once thick air is sliced with quick, brisk movement all across the field.
The L.A. offensive linemen grunt as they try to hold back the Raiders’ defensive onslaught with every bit of strength left.
Goff drops back a few steps and scans the field. Jones is running right at him, trying to fight through the cracks in the line.
Goff looks left to Harry for a few seconds before looking upfield, where Smith is already sprinting across the middle.
Goff gets ready to throw but at the last second, McKinney shuffles left, right in front of Smith’s path, who has to adjust to the break in his route.
Goff pulls the ball back down just as Jones bursts through the line like a mad bull.
Goff sees this and scrambles right.
He keeps his eyes upfield and locks onto Kupp, who is sprinting towards the right front pylon.
He’s covered tightly by an outside linebacker, but not tight enough so that Kupp has roughly a step or two in front of him.
Goff has been slinging balls to Kupp for years now, but as he cocks the ball back in Kupp’s direction, a slimmer of doubt crossed the quarterback’s mind.
That, and a six foot one, 240-pound man.
Jones clips Goff from the side just as he releases the ball, causing a slightly awkward spin to it.
The ball, and the dreams of an entire franchise, sail through the air.
As Goff hits the ground, so did the realization that the pass would fall too short.
Kupp sees the ball and knows it won’t reach him, so he plants his left foot and curls back to the ball.
This move catches the defender off-guard and he stumbles, giving Kupp enough room to snag the ball on the four-yard line.
Kupp swivels right and locks onto the painted field in front of him.
Just as his feet leave the ground, Ramsey, who broke his coverage to steer towards Kupp, takes a quick couple strides towards Kupp before he launches off the ground.
Suddenly, everything slows way, way down.
The white of the camera flashes stick to the hectic, colorful backdrop like a painting.
The Ram lowers his head into the Raider and braces for impact.
An immovable force meets an unstoppable object.
The two men crash to the turf, but not before Kupp, who has an eleven-pound advantage, uses his momentum to drive Ramsey back just enough to fall right over the goal-line.
The ensuing noise is so loud that Goff doesn’t see the ref make the signal.
Goff doesn’t need to see it, though.
He can do nothing but stare as Kupp looks up from his spot in the end-zone, now swarmed by men shouting like boys.
Suddenly, the field is taken over by crazed football players and staffers as the confetti cannons add to the euphoria.
It’s a whirlwind of emotions, but one in particular overcomes Jared Goff, a nine-time Pro Bowler, three-time MVP, and future Hall of Famer: Despair.
Kupp crossed the goal-line.
His knee landed in the end-zone.
He’s still holding the football.
But every one in the stadium knows how it works now; if a player uses his head to initiate contact, he will be penalized.
It’s been that way since 2018.
And the worst part?
The down will not be repeated.
Welcome to the future of football.