The Rams gave Los Angeles a story that will be remembered around these parts for some time.
Their 23-20 victory in Super Bowl LVI came thanks to a cast including Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Sean McVay, who at 36 becomes the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.
Kupp finished one of the greatest individual seasons in fairytale style. He led the NFL in catches, yards and touchdowns, setting an NFL record for receiving yards and won Super Bowl MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
The Los Angeles Rams celebrate their Super Bowl triumph after a late comeback to win 23-30 against Cincinnati Bengals
LA Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp caught the match-winning touchdown as they came from behind to win Super Bowl LVI
Rams pass-rusher Aaron Donald celebrates after taking down Joe Burrow to seal the victory in Los Angeles in the last minute
Star Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow shakes the hand of Rams counterpart Matthew Stafford after full-time
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gives the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Rams owner Stan Kroenke in the $5bn arena he funded
Rams QB Stafford celebrates at full-time after a late match-winning drive to earn his first Super Bowl title at the age of 34
‘I don’t feel deserving of this… I don’t know what to say,’ Kupp told NBC’s Mike Tirico on the podium after receiving the gong.
Over 21 games he produced 178 catches, 2,425 yards and 22 touchdowns. The last two came here, where his eight receptions yielded 92 yards.
His second score, a one-yard reception with 1min 25 sec remaining gave the Rams a lead they would not relinquish.
‘Odell went down and Coop made some unbelievable plays on that last drive,’ Stafford said. ‘On that last play, I was so happy they were playing man [coverage], I was going to throw the ball to my man and he made a great play.’
There were redemption stories too with McVay and Kupp exorcising the demons of Atlanta three years ago. Kupp was injured and didn’t play, while McVay still blames himself for the defeat by the New England Patriots.
Stafford found Odell Beckham Jnr early on in the first quarter for the game’s opening touchdown in a sold-out SoFi Stadium
Star receiver Beckham only moved to the Rams franchise earlier this season but was the star of the show in the early stages
Yet Beckham Jnr was forced off in the second quarter – and did not return – after injuring his knee in a huge blow to the Rams
‘I can’t say enough about the resilience of this team. Guys stepping up when they had to and it’s going to sound like a broken record, but that’s what makes this team great. That’s why they’re world champs. Our best players stepped up in the most crucial and critical moments,’ McVay said.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford capped his first four playoff wins with a title thanks to the 35th come-from-behind fourth quarter victory of his career. He was intercepted three times but came up big when it counted, leading the Rams to victory with a little help from some penalty flags.
But it wasn’t pretty. For every failed run by the Rams – and there were plenty – Joe Burrow was sacked. Neither team had a first down beyond the third quarter, with a run of seven consecutive punts ended by Donald, who forced the ball out of Burrow’s hand as the Bengals turned the ball over on downs.
Bengals safety Jessie Bates intercepted a pass in the end-zone, which swung the momentum in favour of Cincinnati
Joe Burrow, in just his second season in the NFL, then found his rhythm towards the end of the second quarter in Los Angeles
From struggling early on, the Bengals came back from a heavy deficit to lead in the second-half, but could not move clear
Tee Higgins ran in for his second touchdown in the first play of the second-half despite clutching Jalen Ramsey’s facemask
The likes of Stafford, Beckham, Donald, veteran offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth and Von Miller celebrated while blue and yellow ticker tape covered the field of SoFi Stadium, where the Rams became the second straight team to win the Super Bowl in their patch.
They overcame adversity in the shape of a knee injury to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jnr – who scored the opening touchdown of the game – but there is uncertainty over some of their key actors, among them McVay.
Veteran offensive tackle offensive Andrew Whitworth is also talking retirement, while Van Jefferson’s wife went into labour during the game.
And despite struggling on the ground all game, it means redemption for head coach McVay after the heartbreak in Atlanta three years ago.
It means the end of a remarkable season for Cincinnati, led by the transformative figure of quarterback Burrow.
Burrow also went down clutching his knee at one point in the second half – and he was unable to extend Cincinnati’s lead
Yet without Beckham to call on, Rams head coach Sean McVay was struggling to get his offence to tick as the game crept on
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, who used to work under McVay, was matching his former boss stride for stride
‘We’re a young team,’ Burrow added. ‘You like to think that we’ll be back in this situation multiple times over the course of the next few years. We’ll take this and let it fuel you for the rest of our careers.’
With Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase causing havoc through the air – Higgins had 100 yards and two touchdowns; Chase 89 yards – the Bengals were firmly in position to win. But their name will be added to those unfortunate teams who failed to kill off an opponent.
Not to mention an inability to protect their quarterback, with Burrow sacked seven times.
‘We just did the things that we thought we needed to do to win the game,’ Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said.
Of his quarterback, he said: ‘He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met. So much respect for Joe it’s so unfortunate we couldn’t finish it off as a team.’
This was the Rams 11th home game at SoFi Stadium with supporters, most played in front of more away fans than their own.
It looked to be following the trend early on this morning, with orange and black the more noticeable among the 70,048 spectators.
With Cam Akers struggling from the off – the Rams running back rushed for a meagre 21 yards off 13 carries – Stafford took matters into his own hands, scrambling for seven yards. It was the Rams’ joint-longest of the game.
Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg opened up a blistering half-time show at Super Bowl LVI as day turned to night in Los Angeles
Eminem was also among the star performers captivating the 70,000 in attendance and millions watching on worldwide
It was a stunning spectacle to witness, with hundreds of performers adding to the show on the pitch during the interval
Cincinnati’s defense struggled to adjust to Kupp in motion, Stafford tossed a beauty into the endzone and Odell Beckham Jnr did the rest. Plucking the ball out of the air, he shrugged off Mike Hilton’s tight coverage to score his seventh touchdown in 12 games as a Ram.
A key to the game would be how Jalen Ramsey handled Chase and the Rams’ prized cornerback began in ungainly fashion as he flapped and trailed in Chase’s wake.
But despite a 46-yard gain Cincinnati had to settle for a field goal, dispatched by the ever-reliable Evan McPherson.
The Rams powered ahead on their next possession. First Beckham danced through the secondary for 35 yards, then Darrell Henderson bulldozed for 25.
Losing track of Kupp in the endzone was not the best tactic and Cincinnati were duly punished. Stafford casually rolled to his right and floated a pass to Kupp, for arguably the easiest touchdown of the season.
Their trick play two-point conversion was a bodge, kicker Jonny Hekker’s pass intercepted by Germaine Pratt. Cincinatti failed with some impromptu rugby and the Bengals were down 13-3.
The game needed a big drive and Burrow, Mixon and Higgins delivered.
Combining for 12-play, 75-yard drive, it was ended by a trick play – this time a successful one. Mixon’s pass to an equally wide open Higgins put the Bengals right back in it.
Yet with his final drive of the match, Stafford led the team down the field as he linked up consistently with Kupp
Beckham, by this point, was watching and praying on the sideline as he was unable to return due to his first-half injury
After numerous late penalties on both sides, Stafford found Kupp in the end-zone to give the Rams a three-point lead
Just when it was looking like a shootout, with the next play Beckham landed awkwardly, a non-contact injury to his left knee. He did not play another snap.
Minus one of his top targets, Stafford looked long. Was there a window to find Van Jefferson? If there was, Jessie Bates closed it, and his interception sparked wild celebrations on the Bengals benches.
While Burrow suffered the 13th sack of the postseason, Leonard Floyd forcing a punt, the Rams couldn’t do any damage and an intriguing first ended with the Rams 13-10 up.
After a blistering half-time show the game continued in a similar vein.
A 75-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Higgins was greeted by an almighty roar. Ramsey slipped, Higgins snaffled and sprinted away. ‘Who dey! Who dey!’
Sensing something, Bengals fans upped the noise as the play clock ticked down. But it was nothing compared to the din of the following few seconds as Stafford’s pass deflected off Ben Skowronek’s left hand and into those of cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
But Donald – who has anchored the Rams defense since 2014 – stalled the drive. After sacking Burrow twice, McPherson converted and Cincinnati led by seven.
Yet Burrow and the Bengals did have time to tie the game with a field goal, but Aaron Donald tackled Burrow on fourth down
It gave the Rams a famous victory, following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year in winning a Super Bowl in their home arena
For Burrow, who had guided the Bengals to an unlikely Super Bowl appearance, it was a case of so close and yet so far
With the Rams deep in Bengals territory, McVay attempted to emulate the Philly Special on third and five. But Kupp overshot Stafford for his only mistake of the night and LA had to settle for three and trailed 20-16.
Suddenly, just when it looked like a shootout, defenses took over with a flurry of sacks against two porous offensive lines. Seven straight punts ensued.
But just when it mattered, Stafford clicked into gear. At the two-minute warning Los Angeles were perched on Cincinnati’s eight-yard line.
The flags flew to increase the tension, with Stafford finding Kupp to seal the final, go-ahead score and give the Rams what many are calling a Hollywood ending.