Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Rams
For the first time since Super Bowl XXVII in January 1993, the Super Bowl returned to Los Angeles, California.
And unlike that game, a 52-17 drubbing by the Dallas Cowboys over the Buffalo Bills, this was an instant classic Super Bowl that came down to the wire.
Ultimately, the Los Angeles Rams would win this one over the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium, 23-20.
Tone set early in the first half
From the beginning, it was clear that this was going to be a tough game dominated by the defensive lines.
On the first drive of the game, Trey Hendrickson tallied the game’s first of nine sacks. Seven of those nine sacks would be by the Rams.
The Rams strike first, Cincinnati answers
After forcing a turnover on downs, Los Angeles scored on a 17-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Odell Beckham Jr. to take a 7-0 lead.
Then came a few three-and-outs, where it set in for everyone at home that running the ball was going to be a struggle for both teams.
Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow connected with Ja’Marr Chase for a 46-yard pass to get into Rams’ territory. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the offense stalled out and had to settle for a field goal.
The Rams take a two-score lead, Cincinnati answers again
Following the Cincinnati field goal, the Rams faced a 3rd-and-11 from their own 24-yard-line.
Stafford found Beckham for a 35-yard pickup. After a couple more plays and a timeout, Stafford found Cooper Kupp in the end zone for a touchdown.
Holder Johnny Hekker lost control spinning the laces around on the extra point, so the lead was only 13-3.
Cincinnati responded with a touchdown drive of its own.
Cincinnati’s drive was capped off with a Joe Mixon pass to Tee Higgins. The toss made Mixon the first Oklahoma Sooner to throw for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
The rest of the first half was relatively uneventful, save for one massive event — Beckham injuring his left knee. Beckham would not return.
Second half looks to be all Cincinnati
On the very first play of the second half, Burrow hit Higgins for a 75-yard touchdown that gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game.
The next play of the second half was an interception from Stafford off the hands of Ben Skowronek. Cincinnati had been no stranger to tipped up interceptions this postseason.
Even though the Bengals started at Los Angeles’ 31-yard-line, they were only able to muster one first down before a third down sack forced Cincinnati to settle for a field goal. This extended the Bengals’ lead to seven.
The Rams fight back
Without Beckham, the Rams looked hopeless up to this point. Even after this point, it was rough for much of the second half.
A 52-yard drive that ended in a field goal was a sign. Even though it was not a touchdown, it showed that the Rams could still pick up consecutive first downs and still had a chance.
The seven following drives were punts, with five of them being three-and-outs.
Every drive started to seem the same. Either the Rams ended up in 3rd-and-long after a couple ineffective runs, or we’d hear Al Michaels announced that the Bengals were punting on 4th-and-long after yet another sack from the Rams’ defense.
Matt Stafford steps up
With 6:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, it seemed like each team might get a few more drives based on the way the previous several had gone.
But, by the time the Rams’ last drive was over, the Bengals would be in a two-minute drill in an attempt to save its season.
The last drive for the Rams was on thin ice, after finding itself with a 4th-and-1 from its own 30. Having run for less than two yards per carry with the running backs all game, head coach Sean McVay opened up the playbook just a bit. Kupp took the jet sweep for the first down and more, keeping this drive alive.
Most of the rest of the drive was dinking and dunking until Stafford fit a ball perfectly into a tight pocket of the Bengals’ Cover 2. He found Kupp coming over the middle for a 22-yard gain.
After the two-minute warning, Los Angeles found itself on the Cincinnati 8-yard line. It took seven plays and three penalties, but the Rams would find the end zone.
On 2nd-and-goal from the Cincinnati 1-yard-line, Stafford found Kupp on a simple goal line fade.
Given Eli Apple’s comments this past week, it should be mentioned Apple was lined up opposite Kupp on that play.
Burrow and the Bengals get one final chance
It looked bleak. The Bengals had the ball and its own 25 with 1:25 and two timeouts.
But, in a couple plays, Burrow was able to drive the offense down to midfield.
On 3rd-and-1 from the Rams’ 49-yard line, the Bengals ran the ball directly at Aaron Donald with Samaje Perine. In hindsight, this one is probably one the Bengals would like back, because it did not work.
On the ensuing 4th-and-1, Burrow had just 2.2 seconds before Aaron Donald had him wrapped up. Burrow was able to get the ball out in Perine’s direction, but it fell to the ground.
The Los Angeles Rams are Super Bowl Champs
All it took was one more kneel from the Rams. They were Super Bowl LVI Champions.
With eight receptions, 92 yards, and two touchdowns — including the game-winning touchdown — Kupp was named the Super Bowl MVP.
Stafford finished 26-for-40 with 283 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Burrow finished 22-for-33 with 263 yards and a touchdown.
Cam Akers led all Rams rushers with 21 yards on 13 carries — good for 1.6 yards per carry.
In addition to the touchdown pass, Mixon led all game rushers with 72 yards on 16 carries.
Tee Higgins led all receivers with 100 yards. He also had two receiving touchdowns on his four catches.
Chase, the NFL’s Rookie of the Year, finished with five receptions and 89 yards.
The Rams’ defense finished with seven sacks. Donald and Von Miller recorded two each. If the MVP could have gone to the entire defensive line, it would have.
And that’s the last major football that will be played until August. What a final game it was.