The Los Angeles Rams went all-in for a championship, and in Super Bowl 56, each of their big guns went off to win in dramatic fashion.
Aaron Donald. Of course.
That’s how my game notes ended following the Los Angeles Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.
Donald, who had two sacks, saved his most important play for perhaps his final one. With Cincinnati trailing by a field goal and facing 4th and 1 at the Los Angeles 49-yard line, Donald beat left guard Quinton Spain and spun quarterback Joe Burrow before his desperation pass fell incomplete.
Ultimately, the story of Sunday night was the one many expected to unfold coming in. The Rams’ pressure was unrelenting upfront, and Burrow finally found a force he couldn’t overcome.
Aaron Donald destroyed the Bengals offense
“We had made a third-down stop,” Donald remembered of the final Cincinnati drive. “Fourth down, I thought they would run, but they dropped back to pass. Found a way to get the chop-club and bend the edge and found a way to get to the quarterback and make him throw an errant pass. I actually tried to get the ball out, but he threw it up so I was a little nervous at first. It was a huge play. It was a great few stops for the defense that we made leading up to that. I think we started taking over the game up front when we needed to. We’re world champs.”
In the first half, Los Angeles’ vaunted front was absent. The Rams only sacked Burrow once and hit him thrice in the first two quarters. Then, in the third, Los Angeles sacked him five time before Von Miller got him in the fourth, giving the Rams a total of seven on the evening.
For all the big names brought in by general manager Les Snead over the past year, it was Donald, one of the few superstars who played in and lost Super Bowl LIII for the Rams, who made the play to finish off the victory.
And yet while Donald was his typically incredible self, his effort falls flat without the high-profile additions all playing their parts.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford shook the shackles of the Detroit Lions this offseason, with the Rams sending two first-round picks and Jared Goff to acquire him.
Los Angeles Rams and Stafford found a way to step up when needed
Trailing 20-16 with 6:13 remaining and 79 yards ahead of him, Stafford began the march which would define his career, regardless of the outcome. While his 1-yard touchdown toss to Cooper Kupp will always be the game-winner, it was actually his 22-yard laser down the seam to Kupp moments earlier which should be remembered for all time as one of the Super Bowl’s best.
“You wanted to put the game in one of your best players’ hands and the guy you feel like has led you to this position,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “Give the Bengals credit, they did a great job. We didn’t run the ball very well. … They are a tough run defense and they’ve done a great job of getting timely stops throughout the course of the playoffs. You put the ball in your best players’ hands when it matters most. That’s what we did with Matthew and he delivered in a big way. He’s a world champ.”
Kupp, who was limited by the Bengals to only four catches for 53 yards until Los Angeles’ final drive, caught four balls for 39 yards and his second touchdown — both beating Bengals corner Eli Apple — to put the Rams ahead for good.
It was the perfect finish to an almost perfect season, with Kupp joining former San Francisco 49ers great Jerry Rice as the only receivers to lead the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, and win the Super Bowl.
“I just want to achieve my job to the best of my ability, and I trust that as the game goes on I will have opportunities as well and I just want to stay ready for those things and stay locked in,” Kupp said of his patience.
Cooper Kupp stepped up when OBJ left the game
Kupp’s quiet game early on was largely due to another star acquisition in Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham was everywhere before leaving in the second quarter with a left knee injury, catching two passes for 52 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown on a beautiful wheel route out of the slot to beat corner Mike Hilton.
Beckham, who was thought by many to be finished after the Cleveland Browns cut him in November, scored seven touchdowns for the Rams in 12 games, including the postseason.
Ultimately, the Rams mirrored their city, believing in the star system.
In the biggest game on the grandest stage, they performed beautifully.
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