From Fortnite to the football field: Jared Goff and Tyler Higbee's bromance

play
Higbee remains on fire for Rams (2:10)

Matthew Berry and Field Yates continue to be fantasy positive on Tyler Higbee for Week 16 after the Rams TE turned in another good game vs. the Cowboys. (2:10)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff and tight end Tyler Higbee live only a few freeway exits from each other, but rather than spend time fighting L.A.-area traffic, the Rams quarterback and tight end found common ground connecting on their headsets.

As the Fortnite craze took over popular culture, Goff and Higbee bonded from their couches.

"He's on his TV and I'm on my TV," Higbee said. "We'd team up and play against other people or we'd play with other teammates."

These days, the pair mostly engage in battle on the golf course, where Goff claims he'll take Higbee to task.

"I haven't beat him in awhile," Higbee said. "I'm going to get him this offseason, though."

There will be plenty of time for that. The Rams were eliminated from playoff contention with a 34-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Saturday.

On Sunday, they will play their regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1) at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). It will be the Rams' final game at the historic building before they open 2020 at the new SoFi Stadium. It will also be a chance for the Rams (8-7) to finish with a winning record for a third consecutive season.

Although the season has ended in disappointment, with the Rams failing to make the postseason less than a year after playing in Super Bowl LIII, at least one silver lining has emerged during a roller-coaster December.

Goff and Higbee's connection, which was established after both were selected in the 2016 draft -- Goff first overall and Higbee in the fourth round -- has appeared to get stronger on the field.

"I trust him as much as anybody," said Goff, noting that Higbee is one of his best friends. "That's why I feel comfortable throwing him the ball."

On Saturday, Higbee became just the fourth NFL tight end since the 1970 merger to have four consecutive games with more than 100 receiving yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, joining Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Green Bay Packers' Jimmy Graham and the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce. No tight end has had five consecutive 100-yard games.

It started on Dec. 1, when Higbee caught seven passes for a career-high 107 yards in a Week 13 rout of the Cardinals.

The performance initially appeared to be an outlier, given Higbee averaged 2.6 catches for 21 yards per game through the first 12 weeks. And last season he caught just 24 passes for 292 yards a year after catching 25 passes for 295 yards.

But Higbee has begun to assert himself as a consistent playmaker, surpassing his previous seasons in a month of work and setting career records for catches in a game (12) and receiving yards in a game (116).

"I've always had confidence in myself, I've always believed in myself," said Higbee, who transitioned from receiver to tight end as a third-year sophomore at Western Kentucky. "It's just -- they're throwing to me, I'm trying to catch it, trying to make a play."

"We've always thought he's a complete tight end," coach Sean McVay said. "He's going to continue to get opportunities, he's going to continue to be a big part of this offense, especially when you just look at how vital he's been."

Before the season, the Rams signed Higbee to a four-year, $29 million extension, just on the heels of giving Goff a four-year, $134-million deal.

Initially, Higbee's extension was somewhat puzzling, given his minimal role in the offense outside of protection. In his first three seasons, since he was selected with the 110th pick of the draft, Higbee was used sparingly in the passing game.

But a last-minute scratch for receiver Robert Woods in Week 11 forced McVay to improvise and the Rams moved to a 12-personnel scheme (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) over their previously-preferred 11-personnel packages (one running back, one tight end, three receivers).

Then tight end Gerald Everett, who averaged three receptions for 34 yards in 12 games, injured his knee in a Week 12 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and spent three weeks inactive, forcing the Rams to make further adjustments.

"[Higbee]'s done what we always thought he could do and it's great to be able to see him do it in these real games," McVay said. "He's shown that kind of stuff in practice."

Higbee's emergence, accompanied by his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame, has benefited Goff, who experienced an inconsistent season, passing for 19 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.

"It helps," Goff said about having a big target in the passing game. "He does have that big frame, that big wingspan. I can kind of throw it anywhere near him he's got great hands, he's shown all that. We do like using him on stuff where I can miss a little bit at times. He can make that play."

Goff and Higbee, along with the rest of the Rams, will go into the offseason attempting to put 2019 and its disappointments behind them. But as they search for answers to what went wrong, the Goff-Higbee connection should certainly be marked down as something that went right.