Super Bowl LVI

Super Bowl LVI

The Los Angeles Rams beat  the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in Super Bowl 56 Sunday at SoFi Stadium. 

Quarterback Matthew Stafford found star receiver Cooper Kupp for the go-ahead, 1-yard touchdown with 1:25 to play. But would the Bengals answer? Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald ensured Cincinnati wouldn’t when he wrapped up Burrow on 4th-and-1 to seal the win with 39 seconds to play.

“For the offense to be able to find a way and Aaron to finish it off,” head coach Sean McVay said, “is poetic.”

It was the Rams’ second Super Bowl title in franchise history, with the first coming in 2000. 

With a strong presence of Rams fans in the crowd of 70,048, the team became only the second to win the Lombardi Trophy in its home stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season became the first team to do it.  

The victory provided at least short-term validation for the Rams’ all-in approach, with the club having traded a slew of draft picks to acquire Stafford, outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for its championship run. 

Each acquisition contributed powerfully.

Stafford completed 26-of-40 passes for 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He said the “up and down” game resembled the Rams’ inconsistent season and perhaps they even hearkened to Stafford’s high-octane but mistake-prone performances in a season replete with 41 touchdowns but 17 interceptions.

And yet, like his regular-season wave, Stafford built a cushion early and would deliver late when he mattered most.

The Rams were on the board first, Stafford hitting fellow 2021 acquisition Beckham on an airborne 17-yard touchdown with 6:22 to play in the first quarter. He’d strike again as Kupp faked a block before hauling in an 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp catches the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 56.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp catches the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 56.  

But the momentum swung shortly before halftime. Beckham attempted a crossing route akin to one on which he’d earlier raced upfield to net a 35-yard gain. Not so this time. Facing third-and-9, with 3:54 to play in the first half, Beckham dropped a pass and clutched his left knee. He wouldn’t return to the game.

Stafford heaved a prayer on third-and-14 later in the drive, and Bengals safety Jessie Bates III instead intercepted in the end zone. Cincinnati couldn’t convert before halftime but needed just one play in the third quarter to unload.

Leave it to Burrow to unleash a bomb toward receiver Tee Higgins down the left sideline, and Higgins capitalized for a 75-yard touchdown after Rams All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey lost his footing on a play Ramsey seemed to have expected a flag on for a facemask. Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie stole a tipped pass the following play, Stafford’s second interception in short time. The Bengals extended their lead with a field goal, their 4-point lead almost enough to sustain a late-game punting fest.

But seven sacks, not including the final wrap-up by Donald, proved too much for Burrow and the Bengals to overcome. Burrow completed 22-of-33 passes for 263 yards including the 75-yard touchdown. He made no mistakes. But Stafford and Kupp punctuated the performance late. Burrow and his Bengals failed to answer.

Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon notched a game-high 72 yards rushing on 15 attempts in addition to completing a lone pass for a 6-yard touchdown to Higgins on a trick play, Cincinnati’s first score of the day. Mixon’s ground game nearly doubled the entire Los Angeles output, the Rams sputtering with just 1.9 yards per attempt and a total of 42 yards in the win.

They overcame the brick wall encountered on the ground with well-timed passing success and a nasty pass rush. Miller and Donald each sacked Burrow twice, the Bengals' offensive line withstanding the Rams early but ultimately faltering in what had seemed like the game’s decisive mismatch.

Burrow and Stafford each limped off the field at points, Burrow sustaining seven crushing sacks to cap off a postseason that began with him often on the ground.

And with one last chance, down by three, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald delivered the game-crushing sack. Stafford had punctuated his performance. Burrow couldn’t answer.

At 36, Rams head coach Sean McVay became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. The previous youngest was Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. He was 36 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009 with a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals but was about 10 months older than McVay.

Despite the Bengals’ inspired one-year turnaround – they finished 4-11-1 in 2020 and this year went 10-7 and won the AFC North title before their postseason run – they remain one of 12 NFL franchises never to have won a Super Bowl. 

— Josh Peter and Jori Epstein