Rams revive to beat Bengals for second Super Bowl trophy


Photo courtesy of yourgolftravel.com via Creative Commons License

Super Bowl LVI was played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. SoFi Stadium is the home of the Los Angeles Rams, the second team to ever play a Super Bowl in their home stadium, after the Buccaneers were the first to ever do it last year.

Another year, another end to the NFL season with a blockbuster Super Bowl that went down to the wire. This time, the upstart Cincinnati Bengals took on the juggernaut Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, California at the Rams’ own SoFi Stadium. The Bengals up until this point, had enjoyed a miracle run to the Super Bowl, especially when you consider their dreadful 2-14 and 4-11-1 seasons in the two years prior. Joe Burrow led his team past the Las Vegas Raiders, the one-seeded Tennessee Titans, and the perennial Super Bowl favorites Kansas City Chiefs, all in just one playoff run, one that might only be overshadowed by the run of Matthew Stafford and the Rams.

After trading their quarterback in March, the Rams looked poised to make a deep run into the playoffs. However, there was one big question: the quarterback they traded for. Stafford was winless in the postseason prior to this season. Despite this, doubt soon went away after a smackdown of the Arizona Cardinals and a statement win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFC Championship saw the Rams facing a familiar foe, the San Francisco 49ers, who the Rams had been 0-6 against in their last six meetings. Nevertheless, the Rams persisted, punching their ticket to the Super Bowl, their second in just four seasons.

The game started out quiet, with both teams exchanging quiet drives with each other, until about six minutes were left in the first quarter. Stafford found Odell Beckham Jr. in the back of the endzone for the first touchdown of the game. The Bengals would quickly answer back with a field goal from standout rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who continued his streak of made field goals in the playoffs. The first quarter had some fireworks, but overall it was tame for the most part. When the horn sounded it was seven to three in favor of the Rams. 

The second quarter started with an explosive drive of the Rams, who were in scoring position in the first couple minutes of the quarter. Sure enough, Stafford found star wide receiver Cooper Kupp in the endzone for his second touchdown of the half. It’s never a good thing to have something of note to say about the point-after attempt; this case is no different. The hold on the kick was bad and the Rams had to bail out into a two-point attempt. Rams punter Johnny Hecker was intercepted on the play but nothing else came of that turnover luckily for Los Angeles. The Bengals would respond with a methodical drive down the field with some excellent quick passing and great runs by running back Joe Mixon. At the goal line, the Bengals ran a trick play that gave Mixon the opportunity to pass the ball, and he would hit wide receiver Tee Higgins with a pass in the back of the endzone for a touchdown. The Rams would get the ball back, but their fortune would begin to turn sour. Beckham Jr., who had already had 60 yards and a touchdown, went down with a seemingly serious knee injury and did not return for the rest of the game. The rest of the drive would go nowhere with Stafford throwing essentially a meaningless interception to end the half with the Rams sitting on a 13-10 lead. 

After Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem lit up the halftime show, the action was back immediately. Burrow, scrambling, threw what would end up being a very controversial 75 yard touchdown pass to Higgins. It appeared that Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey fell down on the route, but upon closer inspection by the NBC broadcast, you could see a vivid facemask pull from Higgins onto Ramsey that should have been called for a 15 yard penalty that would have negated that touchdown entirely and set the Bengals up for a long second down. Instead, the Bengals scored and took the lead for the first time in the game. Right after this, the Rams luck didn’t get any better, as a Stafford pass rolled off the hands of his intended target and fell right into the wading arms of Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuize for an interception, Stafford’s second of the night. The Bengals would only get a field goal out of the turnover after a spirited rally on defense by the Rams. The Rams would drive down for a field goal after getting the ball back and the game would be gridlocked at 20-16 Bengals until late in the fourth quarter. During this quarter in a half long slog, the two teams would trade blows in the form of negative runs and sacks. 

Eventually after about 20 minutes of zero scoreboard movement, the Rams desperately needed to get down the field and score. This is a good time to remember the Rams botched extra point from the first half, it left them with 16 points instead of 17, which would be enough points for Los Angeles to tie the game with a field goal, but because of that failed extra point, the Rams had to get into the endzone. After a clutch fourth-and-one conversion from Kupp, the Rams had about 40 yards to go to get to the endzone. Stafford delivered a masterful pass to Kupp over the middle for another chunk play and a solid effort run by running back Cam Akers would bring the game to the two minute warning with the Rams set up with first and goal at the Bengals eight yard line. 

The game had very few penalty flags at this point in the game, including the controversial no-call on the facemask by Higgins on his long touchdown to open the half. But at the goal line, mistakes kept being made, mostly by the Bengals. Firstly, Bengals linebacker committed a defensive hold on Kupp which gave the Rams a first down at the Cincinnati four yard line. And then on the ensuing third and goal Kupp caught what was seemingly the go ahead touchdown but flags flew. At first sight, most fans thought this would be a flag on the Bengals for a high hit on Kupp’s head but most did not see the holding that Rams right tackle Rob Havenstien did, this was called offsetting penalties and the down was replayed. Lastly on that repeated down Bengals cornerback Eli Apple interfered with Kupp enough to have a penalty called on him which moved the ball to the one yard line. Stafford tried to force his way in the endzone on a QB sneak, but to no avail, Cincinnati would call it’s first timeout of the half. 

The Rams came out of this timeout and snapped the ball very quickly, seemingly as if they had a plan in mind that they wanted to execute immediately before the Bengals could adjust. Stafford rolled out the right and threw a strike to Kupp who made a perfect catch over Apple in the endzone. Touchdown Rams.  The game was not over despite the Rams retaking the lead, Burrow and the Bengals came out and made a big play immediately, with wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase catching and running for 17 yards and Tyler Boyd catching a quick pass for nine yards. Suddenly, within just two plays, the Bengals were over midfield. But this point is where the Bengals struggling offensive line came back to bite them. 

The Bengals offensive line has been a storyline for them for quite a while, especially after Burrow went down with a serious knee injury late in his rookie season. During the first half of this game they had put up an adamant effort, but some on social media would be quick to point out just how quickly the Bengals were getting the ball out of Burrow’s hands. The second half shutdown of the Bengals offense was in large part because Burrow had been sacked four times in just that half. The Bengals worked the ball into a fourth and one and before most fans could even process the ball being snapped, Rams defensive end Aaron Donald had Burrow in his arms. As Burrow was spun to the ground he threw up a miracle pass that hit the ground with a heart-wrenching thud. The Rams went wild, with only 39 seconds left, they had gotten possession of the ball back and could easily end the game. They had won the Super Bowl.

Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP for his eight catch, 91 yards, and two touchdown performance, and so many talented veterans won their first championship ring after many years of elite high-level play. The Rams built their team in a very different way than most NFL fans are accustomed to. Opting to trade most of their high draft picks away for star power talent, rather than trying to hit on draft picks and develop a core that way. It is a method that many analysts criticized in the past couple of years, especially in January of 2021 when the Rams first made the trade for Stafford. Articles calling Stafford “Stat PadFord” making light of his high caliber stats with little playoff success, people questioning the Rams potential future since they won’t be picking in the first round until 2024 at the present moment. But after winning it all one could argue that it’s all worth it.