Late drive lifts Rams over Bengals in Super Bowl LVI

Published 10:49 pm Sunday, February 13, 2022

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — In a venue built for champions, the Los Angeles Rams carried off the crown jewel: a Super Bowl trophy.

It took a precise 79-yard drive capped by Cooper Kupp’s 1-yard touchdown reception with 1:25 remaining for a 23-20 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals to give the Rams their first NFL title since the 1999 season — and their first representing Los Angeles since 1951.

“Those guys just did a great job,” coach Sean McVay said. “They took over that game.”

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They did so in their home, the $5 billion SoFi Stadium, making the Rams the second consecutive host to win the championship after Tampa Bay became the first a year ago.

“As far as building this stadium,” said Rams owner Stan Kroenke, the man who moved them back from St. Louis in 2016, “I think it turned out all right.”

The winning series, during which Kupp’s 4-yard touchdown reception from Matthew Stafford was negated by offsetting penalties, ended soon after with the NFL Offensive Player of the Year easily beating Eli Apple in the right corner of the end zone for the winning score.

Kupp had four receptions for 39 yards, and a 7-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Rams 30 on the championship drive. He caught eight passed for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the game, and became the eighth wide receiver to win the Super Bowl MVP award.

Cincinnati was penalized the second-fewest times (72) for the fewest yards (620) in the regular season but flags on three consecutive plays hurt badly — including interference on Kupp in the end zone.

“I don’t feel deserving of this,” Kupp said of the MVP award. “The guys standing here challenged me, they pushed me. I am just so grateful.”

Even with that brilliant, decisive march to the Lombardi Trophy, it was LA’s “fearsome fivesome” that made the difference. Led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller, they sacked Joe Burrow a Super Bowl record-tying seven times, shutting down Cincinnati’s offense after the Bengals took the lead and then added to it with a field goal during a 22-second spurt to start the second half.

Fittingly, Burrow was under pressure on fourth-and-1 and threw incomplete, setting off a football fiesta this city has not seen since the Los Angeles Raiders won the 1983 championship. The Rams’ previous Super Bowl victory in 1999 came when the franchise was based in St. Louis.

A tearful Donald said after the crowning achievement of a certain Hall of Fame career, “I wanted it so bad. I dreamed this.”

Added McVay, at 36 the youngest Super Bowl-winning head coach: “For the offense to be able to find a way, and then Aaron to be able to finish it off, it’s poetic, man.”

The 10 quick points at the outset of the third quarter put Cincinnati ahead for the first time. Tee Higgins’ 75-yard score made it 17-13 — clearly tugged All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s face mask on the play — and was followed one play later by Chidobe Awuzie’s interception. Evan McPherson tied Adam Vinatieri’s postseason record with his 14th field goal, a 38-yarder, to put the Bengals ahead 20-13.

Then they tried to hold on as all of southwest Ohio held its breath.

But LA’s relentless pass rush, led by its two biggest stars, Donald and Miller with two sacks apiece, allowed nothing more.

Then came the 15-play march in which Kupp also converted the fourth down with his run.

“We wanted to be in attack mode and pressure them as much as possible,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

Kupp even earned the MVP honor despite often being double-teamed after fellow wideout Odell Beckham Jr. — who had a touchdown catch on Los Angeles’ second drive for the game’s first score — went out with a knee injury in the second quarter.

One fear for Rams followers was ill-advised throws by Stafford, and he had two. His deep pass moving left was picked in the end zone late in the first half by Jessie Bates III. On his second interception, rookie Ben Skowronek could only deflect it — directly to Awuzie.

Other than Matt Gay’s 41-yard field goal later in the third quarter, it was all defense until the Rams’ final drive to win it.

Energized from the outset, the crowd of 70,048 at the stadium that opened in 2020 roared to introductions of each team by The Rock. Then the Bengals fans, far louder than their Rams counterparts early on, got to rocking when Trey Hendrickson sacked Stafford, leading to a punt.

LA’s defense responded by holding on third and fourth downs with a yard to go at midfield. Ernest Jones knocked down a pass for Ja’Marr Chase to turn over the ball, and the excellent field position set up the first touchdown.

Beckham, who joined the Rams in Week 10 after being exiled from Cleveland, easily beat Mike Hilton on a corner pattern for the 17-yard score on third down. Then Beckham showed off his moonwalk in the end zone.

Kupp’s first touch, also on third down, was a short throw from Stafford he turned into a 20-yard gain when Jessie Bates III fanned on a tackle. That would not be the last whiff by the Bengals, and it cost them mightily at the end.

The most intriguing matchup of this Super Bowl, Offensive Rookie of the Year receiver Chase against All-Pro Ramsey, got real juicy late in the opening quarter. Chase brilliantly tracked Burrow’s throw and made a one-handed grab over Ramsey for a 46-yard gain to the LA 11. The drive went no further and rookie McPherson kept intact his spotless field goal streak in the postseason with a 29-yarder.

Unlike the Bengals, the Rams turned their early big plays into touchdowns. Beckham took advantage of two defenders colliding to pick up 35 yards on the next drive, Darrell Henderson got 25 while covered by the defensive lineman Hendrickson dropping back, and Kupp was wide open in the right corner of the end zone for his 11-yard score.

“It just comes down to this team and the way we prepared, the way we loved on each other, trusted each other,” Kupp said.