One year ago, if you had walked into a Hollywood pitch meeting with the amazing story of the Los Angeles Rams 2021 season, they would have laughed you out of the room and passed on the project because it was too unbelievable.
On Sunday, the Rams storybook ending was finally written.
Matthew Stafford threw three touchdown passes, including the game-winner with just over a minute remaining, and the Rams rallied to beat the Bengals, 23-20, in Super Bowl LVI on a picture-perfect night in Los Angeles.
As blue and yellow confetti cascaded down on the field at the NFL's crown jewel that is SoFi Stadium, tears of joy flowed down the cheeks of the bevy of players on the Rams' team that have waited a lifetime for this moment. All the while, the 70,048 fans in attendance stood and applauded, awe-struck by the game—and halftime performance—they had just witnessed.
"The biggest thing that I’ve realized about this group is that you're reminded of your real purpose," said Sean McVay, the new youngest Super Bowl winning head coach in history. "There's a difference between passion and purpose. The purpose is when you're doing it because you want to see the other people that you love and care so much about succeed more than yourself."
The Rams jumped out to an early 10-point lead at 13-3 midway through the second quarter. But the Bengals bounced back in the second half, needing just two plays to turn the tide and flip the script on the Ram's story, nearly denying them the happy ending they've long desired.
After the Bengals took a 20-16 lead into the waning minutes of the game, Stafford found Kupp near the front-right pylon for the game-winning one-yard touchdown pass that changed the course of NFL history, and handed the Rams their first championship in Los Angeles.
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The victory is the second Super Bowl title in franchise history, as the then-St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, on January 30, 2000 in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The Rams historic run that will forever be etched in the books began with the acquisition of Stafford in the offseason, multiple moves led to the team moving all their chips into the proverbial Super Bowl pot at the midway point in the season, and after victories over the Cardinals, Bucs, and 49ers in the NFC Playoffs, it all culminated in their own stadium during Super Bowl LVI.
Stafford threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Kupp caught eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, but none were more important then the last one that clinched a championship and earned him MVP honors. Odell Beckham Jr. also caught a touchdown pass.
"I don't feel deserving of this," said Kupp after the game. "I'm just so happy I could do this for my teammates for my family. I'm just so thankful. I don't have words."
After a knee injury ended his rookie campaign in 2020, Bengals' quarterback Joe Burrow bounced back in his sophomore season to lead Cincinnati to the Super Bowl. Burrow threw for 263 yards and a touchdown. Tee Higgins had four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
"It hurts. We put a lot of work into going out there and executing and performing well and it didn't turn out the way we wanted," said Burrow. "We're a young team. You like to think that we'll be back in this situation multiple times over the course of the next few years. But we have to take this and let it fuel us for the rest of our careers."
After allowing only one sack in the first half, the Bengals offensive line became as brittle as a three-month old bar of soap. The Rams' defensive line made a key adjustment and turned up the aggression dial in the second half, slamming Burrow to the ground six times for a total of seven sacks, tying a Super Bowl record. Aaron Donald and Von Miller led the defense with two sacks each.
"You have to be relentless. You want something bad enough, you go get it. It was right in front of us," said Donald of the defenses' second-half surge. "It was put on the defense’s shoulders to make the big stop to make us world champions. You wouldn’t want it another way. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. It’s truly a blessing, the opportunity to play this game, but not just play this game, play with great teammates, great coaches, great organization. Been here eight years, lot of ups-and-downs, so to see it come full circle and be a world champion, all that hard work you put into this game, that’s what it’s for. Finally mission complete, so it feels great.”
The Rams struck first in Super Bowl LVI when Stafford found Odell Beckham Jr. on a fade route in the corner of the end zone in the opening quarter. Beckham Jr. added a 35-yard catch later, but exited the game with a left knee injury midway through the second quarter.
After a Bengals field goal, Stafford and the Rams struck again when receiving triple-crown winner Cooper Kupp hauled in an 11-yard touchdown catch to give LA a 13-3 lead.
"Coop obviously had some huge plays and then the game-winner was just icing on the cake," said Stafford of his favorite receiver.
But the Bengals would answer right back. On second and goal from the six-yard line, Burrow tossed the ball back to running back Joe Mixon who ran to the right and then threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open Tee Higgins in the corner of the end zone.
Stafford threw an interception at the end of the second quarter putting an end to a sure-fire scoring drive.
But the game changed on a dime when Burrow found Higgins for a 75-yard touchdown pass to open the second half.
Rams' cornerback Jalen Ramsey appeared to have his face mask grabbed by Higgins just before he fell to the ground on the play, allowing Higgins to streak down the sideline untouched for the score, giving the Bengals their first lead of the game.
One play later the Bengals got the ball back when Stafford's pass to Ben Skowronek bounced off the receiver's hands and into the awaiting arms of Chidobe Awuzie for the interception.
Eight plays later the Bengals would cash in on the turnover when Evan McPherson kicked a 38-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 20-13 lead.
The Rams had a chance to respond with a game-scoring touchdown, but their ensuing drive stalled out when McVay called for a reverse pass back to Stafford that was overthrown by Kupp.
Struggling on offense without Beckahm Jr. in the game, the Rams finally regained the lead with 1:25 remaining when Stafford found Kupp near the front-right pylon for the one-yard touchdown pass.
"It was man coverage, no help over the top, and Coop did a great job winning on his route. I tried to put it in a good spot, and he made a great catch," said Stafford of the game-winning touchdown. "He's an unbelievable player. I'm so proud of him, all the work that he puts in, the sacrifice, the time, the effort. It's just so fun to get to go to work with him every single day and do what he does and watch him do his thing. It's pretty special."
Aaron Donald would fittingly seal the victory for the Rams when he wrapped up Burrow on 4th and 1 near the 50-yard-line to end the game and complete the team's Hollywood ending.
"To finish it off the way we did, it's only something you would have read in a fairytale," said Rams' safety Eric Weddle who announced his re-retirement after the Super Bowl victory. "I'm so lucky to be a part of it. We're world champions."