So when will everyone know who the Rams’ starting quarterback will be for the wild-card playoff game Saturday against the Seahawks?
“Saturday at 1:39 p.m.,” coach Sean McVay said during a Zoom call with media members Tuesday.
That would be one minute before kickoff, meaning McVay has no intention of tipping his hand over whether Jared Goff’s surgically repaired right thumb will be healed enough to play, or if Los Angeles will go with backup John Wolford.
There was no lack of effort by the media to get the information, though, as McVay was peppered with questions. That led him to finally volunteer that he would not make a public declaration this week.
McVay tried to head off any idea that the Rams might have a quarterback controversy. Goff has struggled in recent weeks, and Wolford was impressive during the first start of his career Sunday in an 18-7 victory over Arizona.
“Jared is our starting quarterback,” McVay said.
But whether that means Goff is starting Saturday — and what will go into the decision — McVay could more accurately have been called McVague.
Some clues, though, emerged that Goff might be more likely to play than last week when he was diagnosed with a broken and dislocated thumb on his throwing hand.
Goff was listed as a limited participant in practice Tuesday, with McVay saying he had thrown passes and taken snaps.
“Jared is preparing himself to play,” McVay said.
Goff suffered the injury Dec, 27 during the Seahawks’ 20-9 victory that clinched the NFC West title for Seattle when he hit the thumb on the helmet of defensive end Benson Mayowa. He popped it back into place and finished the game.
McVay said Tuesday the surgery stabilized the thumb.
That game was the latest uneven performance for Goff, who was the first overall choice in the 2016 NFL draft. In September 2019, he signed a contract paying him $33.5 million per year, not-so-coincidentally just under the $35 million a year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson signed just a few months earlier.
In the December game against the Seahawks, Goff completed just 24 of 43 passes for 234 yards. That performance included an interception on a first down from the Seattle 29-yard line when Goff threw it to Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs.
Goff finished the season with a pedestrian passer rating of 90 but was under that number in four of his past five games, a stretch in which he threw four touchdown passes, five interceptions and lost a fumble.
The Rams started Wolford against Arizona. Wolford is a Wake Forest graduate who was a star of the short-lived Alliance of American Football (where his coach was Rick Neuheisel) but had never taken an NFL snap.
Wolford’s first pass, from the Rams’ 15-yard line, was intercepted, leading to Arizona’s only touchdown in a game the Cardinals had to win to make the playoffs.
But from there the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Wolford settled down, completing 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards (and no more interceptions). He ran six times for 56 yards.
That resilience impressed Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“To bounce back from his first throw he makes, gets picked off and he bounced right back and had a really winning football game. I’m sure they were just really excited about it,” Carroll said Tuesday. “They didn’t protect him to be safe with him at all. He threw the ball all over the yard and made some big throws down the field and spread the formations and all that. It was really impressive.”
Among Wolford’s runs was a 13-yarder to pick up a third-and-10 and a 14-yarder on a third-and-five.
Wolford’s total rushing in one game was more than half of Goff’s 99 yards on 51 carries for the season (with a long of 10).
The Seahawks know all about how dangerous a running quarterback can be, having benefited from Wilson’s mobility for nine years.
And it’s that mobility that the Seahawks said was the only real difference they saw in the Rams’ offense they played against two weeks ago and the one against Arizona.
“He was a little quicker to take off maybe and use his legs to make a couple first downs,” Carroll said. “He did a nice job on third down, had good third-down numbers for the day (the Rams were 6 of 15), and he ran for a couple of them himself. A little different, but the plays were basically the same and the style of play, and it’s 16, 17 games now. They’re going to do the same stuff that they’ve got to do. But he was impressive.”
Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said if Wolford plays he thinks the Rams would throw in more designed quarterback runs.
“I think that would be the big difference,” Wagner said. “It’s still the same offense, still making the same reads, still looking for the same guys.”
It’s an offense the Seahawks have had more success shutting down this season than any during McVay’s four-year tenure as coach, holding the Rams to 32 points in two games. Los Angeles had scored 28 or more in each of the previous five games against Seattle before this season.
That includes holding the Rams to three field goals and just 4.5 yards per play Dec. 27.
But Seattle hasn’t been the only team to have more success defensively against the Rams this year. Los Angeles scored 372 points in the regular season, 22nd in the NFL. That’s a far cry from the 527 of the Super Bowl year of 2018 that earned Goff his big contract.
But as Wagner noted, the Rams will have “more playmakers” for this game, specifically leading rusher Cam Akers, a rookie who sat out two weeks ago because of a sprained ankle. He returned against Arizona.
“He’s the guy that makes their offense go,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said Tuesday.
As for who will hand the ball to him, McVay insists that for now, that’s a wait-and-see proposition.