LOS ANGELES -- The black Range Rover pulled toward the road connecting the northwest corner of the Coliseum to the City of Angels, creeping up alongside what was left of the friends and family section at the end of the locker-room tunnel. The man in the passenger seat was clearly in a hurry Sunday evening, what with a short week officially having begun, but suddenly the car came to a stop, and the tinted window on the driver's side slid down to reveal the face of the NFL's hottest young coach.
"Your son balled today," Sean McVay said from the passenger seat, gesturing toward a smiling man standing alongside an adjacent fence. And as Jerry Goff accepted the coach's praise of his son, Jared, the Los Angeles Rams' third-year quarterback, the proud papa felt compelled to pay his respects to the play-calling prodigy who is the NFL's reigning coach of the year.
"He's lucky to have you," Goff told McVay.
"I feel that way about him," McVay replied.
A few seconds later, McVay's girlfriend, Veronika Khomyn, pulled the Range Rover out of the lot, leaving behind a 35-23 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers that pushed the Rams to 3-0 and decided the Fight For L.A. by unanimous decision.
If you're inclined to assume this was nothing more than simple pleasantries being exchanged in the ebullient wake of the team's best start in 17 seasons, you're missing the message behind McVay's glowing assessment of his quarterback: Goff is not the product of his system. He is the pulse of it.
"Saying he's a system player -- that's just disrespectful," McVay told me after the game, still steamed over a question suggesting as much that he'd received in a press conference last Wednesday. "It's a total discredit to a great player. Those who know, know. Flip the tape on. People who know what it looks like to play the quarterback position at a high level know what they're seeing.
Flip on the tape. Go ahead. Start with the third-and-8 shotgun snap from his own 47-yard line that Goff received with 12:51 left in the third quarter and the Rams up 21-13. McVay had called a play anticipating zone coverage, but the Chargers went with a man-to-man alignment, and the designated man-beater target (receiver Robert Woods) wasn't able to run the route of his choosing.
As second-year wideout Cooper Kupp patiently explained to me later, "Robert had bad leverage on the route. He wanted to go inside, but [the defender] was inside. I was maybe the third or fourth read, but it all broke down, and I just tried to keep it alive."
With pressure closing in, Goff slid forward in the pocket, and slightly to his right. Defensive end Isaac Rochell was coming from Goff's left; defensive end Melvin Ingram swooped in from the right. And closing in quickly from behind Goff, blitzing linebacker Uchenna Nwosu dove into the back of his legs.
"I had gone through all my reads, four or five of them, and I was completely off schedule," Goff said later. "Then Cooper flashed -- that was just him being a football player -- and I was able to get it there."
Said Kupp: "It was 100 percent off schedule. Like, double off schedule. But he got me the ball, and that definitely doesn't happen if Jared's not willing to hang in there as long as he did."
What happened was that Goff zipped a glorious dart toward the right sideline that Kupp caught in stride at the Chargers' 30. Cornerback Trevor Williams, who trailed Kupp by a step, grabbed the receiver from behind, but Kupp kept right on churning forward, and by the 20 he had shed Williams completely, continuing on his way to a 53-yard touchdown.
It was one of many, many impressive throws by Goff on a day when he, and the Rams' offense, but up some strikingly prodigious numbers.
Goff completed 29 of 36 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns, with another scoring throw overturned by a replay review that ruled receiver Brandin Cooks had been stopped at the 1-yard line. He did get dinged for an end-zone interception, with Chargers rookie safety Derwin James making a nice read on a corner throw intended for tight end Gerald Everett.
No worries: The Rams' Cory Littleton responded by blocking a Drew Kaser punt in the end zone, with teammate Blake Countess recovering for a touchdown. And Goff, after a Chargers touchdown drive, responded by completing his next six passes to set up Sam Ficken's 46-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half. Ficken missed, but the point on Goff is not lost.
"This guy's a total stud," McVay said of Goff after exiting the locker room long after the game. "I think people don't realize how calm he is. On the touchdown to Cooper, he has four guys on him, two guys practically hanging on him, and he makes a play. He's fearless, man. It's hard enough to make plays in rhythm, and when things look the way you want them to look. But when things break down and he can still keep plays alive and make big-time throws ... well, that's a whole different level of good."
It's early -- and the Rams have the sure-to-be-peeved-in-the-wake-of-a-brutal-home-loss-to-Buffalo Minnesota Vikings coming to town for a stiff "Thursday Night Football" test -- but McVay's offense, the league's best in 2017, appears to be even better this year.
On Sunday, Goff and friends put up 521 yards of offense, the most by a Rams team since an overtime game in 2006 -- and the most in four quarters of football since 2000, the heart of the "Greatest Show On Turf" era. Additionally, L.A. had 33 first downs, the most by any NFL team since the Saints midway through the 2015 season.
Goff became the third quarterback in league history to finish consecutive games with at least 350 passing yards and a completion percentage of 75 or above. And the Rams, not coincidentally, are 3-0 for the first time since 2001.
So yeah, the system is tremendous. Goff, however, is far more than a nondescript administrator.
"That dude's a freaking monster," said Russell Okung, the Chargers' veteran left tackle. "And I think what makes him a monster is he's incredibly consistent. Consistent players do the best in this league. You know what to expect every time. He takes the easy throws when they're there, and then when he does go over the top, those [receivers] make plays.
"In this league, that's a winning formula. Don't give me the flashy guy; give me the guy who you can depend on every time."
Right now, the metaphorical flashbulbs seem to be focused on a slew of other prolific and promising young quarterbacks, from Patrick Mahomes to Carson Wentz to Deshaun Watson -- and to Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and the other members of the current rookie class.
Goff, for whatever reason, seems to get lost in the wash, even as he cleans up in Tinseltown.
"People don't talk about him," said Andrew Whitworth, the Rams' All-Pro left tackle. "From the start, people were saying he was overdrafted, and now I think they're sitting there waiting for the opportunity to say that maybe they were right. Yet he's done nothing but continue to prove them wrong, and he's getting better and better.
"You feel the command, and his poise is what blows you away. Week after week; good play, bad play; he comes back, explains to us what happened and tells us what we need to do next. He can literally communicate so calmly in the moment, and it's mind-blowing how relaxed he is on the football field."
Not surprisingly, Goff had a relaxed response to the notion that he's getting less hype than some of his contemporaries.
"No idea," he replied. "Look -- with a great running back (Todd Gurley, who ran for 105 yards and a touchdown Sunday) and a really good defense, that can happen. I don't know if they're talking about me. I also don't care. If we're 3-0, it's all good."
Moments after McVay's Range Rover pulled away from the Coliseum on Sunday evening, Goff's mother, Nancy, took her son's indifference a step further.
"We love it," she said of the relative lack of attention her son's exploits are generating. "That's the best -- because then you can sneak through the back door. The worst is when they do the whole 'Mr. Perfect' thing, like (when Goff was a Cal junior) before (the Golden Bears played) Utah -- and then, five interceptions. Right now, it's quiet, and we're winning, and it couldn't be better. This is exactly where he wants to be."
Soon, Jared emerged from the locker room, and he and his parents headed out in the L.A. twilight. Nobody followed. Rest assured, they like it that way.