By Terrance Turner
Feb. 13, 2022
Today, the Los Angeles Rams took the field in their home stadium to play against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. Inside L.A.’s SoFi Stadium, the Rams sought to defeat a surging Bengals team that had somehow managed to overcome an 18-point deficit and beat the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks before. It was not easy. But the Rams prevailed.
Both defenses were unforgiving in the first quarter. The stagnation was surprising, given the high-powered offenses on each team. “You keep waiting to see some fireworks,” NBC commentator Al Michaels said. But then we did: Stafford threw to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the touchdown.
Then Bengals took over, and quarterback Joe Burrow threw a far-flung pass, caught in an amazing 46-yard grab by wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. He advanced the ball all the way to the four-yard line. But the Rams defense stopped them from reaching the end zone. Rams outside linebacker Von Miller batted down one Burrow pass, and another defender broke up what would have been an end-zone touchdown for the Bengals. They settled for a field goal, which was successfully made by kicker Evan McPherson. It was 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Rams caught fire offensively, via yet another great catch and run by Odell Beckham Jr. and a double-digit gain by running back Darrell Henderson. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, rolling right, threw to wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the touchdown. The score was now 13 to 3 — ironically the final score the last time the Rams were in the Super Bowl. And it stayed that way after the Rams hastily attempted a pass instead of kicking for the extra point. Johnny Hekker lost control of the ball before Matt Gay could kick it; Hekker tried to salvage the play by throwing, but the ball was caught by the Bengals and fielded a short distance before ending in tackles.
Calamity struck for the Rams. Beckham suffered a knee injury and had to be helped to the sideline. Later he went to the locker room, with what turned out to be a torn ACL. He would not return to the field. Instead, he could only watch from the sideline and hope he got a ring — and it wasn’t looking good. The Bengals scored minutes later, when WR Tee Higgins made a TD catch.
Stafford was intercepted by the Bengals. But Cincinnati was unable to capitalize on the turnover. It was 13 to 10 at the half. Dr. Dre, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige took the stage for the halftime show.
On the very first play of the second half, Higgins got away with a face mask on cornerback Jalen Ramsey. then Ramsey, unable to recover, fell to the ground, and Higgins ran untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. Bengals took a four-point lead.
Then Stafford was intercepted again when a Rams receiver dropped a pass. Minutes later, a fight broke out on the sideline. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald shoved Burrow out of bounds and later got into fight with a Bengals lineman. A scuffle erupted near the sideline and had to be broken up by the referees.
Donald sacked Burrow on 3rd down to make it 4th down and 12. The Bengals settled for a field goal. McPherson kicked successfully to make the score 20 to 13. Rams took over and could accomplish nothing in terms of the run game. They, too, settled for a field goal, which kicker Matt Gay drilled to make it 20 to 16.
Both quarterbacks got beat up on their ensuing series; Stafford limped off the field after DJ reader fell on his foot and bent it. He had to get taped up on the sideline, but he later came back in. Then Burrow got sacked by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and then sacked again before Bengals had to punt. Then, a disastrous sequence for the Bengals: Burrow got blitzed, swarmed, and then sacked. Burrow was shown clutching his leg in pain before limping off the field.
The Rams launched a desperation drive, with Stafford launching pass after pass to his star wide receiver. Cooper Kupp practically carried the Rams offense past midfield, and their run game finally ignited when Cam Akers powered his way all the way to first and goal. Stafford threw incomplete on 3rd and goal, but the Bengals were flagged for holding. The result: an automatic first down.
There were two fouls on the play, one by each team: one for holding on the offense, another for unnecessary roughness on the defense; by rule, those penalties offset. The down must be replayed, the ref declared. It remained first and goal, with one minute and 38 seconds remaining.
Another errant throw by Stafford. Now two more flags arrived. “Pass interference: defense number 20,” the ref said. “The ball will be placed at the one-yard line. Automatic first down.” Finally, Stafford took it himself for a quarterback sneak; it did not work. Then finally he did what he might have done all along: he threw to Cooper Kupp. Touchdown, at last.
This time, the Rams’ extra point was good. Now up 23-20, Rams retook the lead, with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining. The Bengals had one last chance to win the game. With 43 seconds remaining, Cincinnati found itself in a do-or-die scenario: 4th-and-1, at midfield. The Bengals lined up in shotgun. But their plans were dashed when Donald sacked Burrow, throwing him down and foiling the pass. Donald then ran in view of the camera, pointing to his ring finger — he was about to get a Super Bowl ring.
The Rams have won the Super Bowl. They are now the second team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Celebrations erupted on the sideline: head coach Sean McVay was bathed in Gatorade by his players; WR Odell Beckham Jr. burst into tears. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald got weepy, too, in his interview with Michelle Tafoya.
“I’m so happy. I wanted this so bad,” he said. “I dreamed this, man. I dreamed this, and it’s like… It’s surreal. Look at this,” he said, as confetti streamed down from the ceiling. “Look at this, man. I feel amazing.” He added: “It’s the best feeling in the world, man. God is great. I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say. It’s a blessing.”
When the Rams received their Lombardi Trophy, the team’s best receiver got his moment in the sun. Cooper Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP. After a season in which he led all receivers in both receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16 TDs!), Kupp caught two touchdowns in Super Bowl LVI, including the game-winner. Yet he humbly denied himself the honor: “I don’t feel deserving of this,” he admitted. “God is just so good. I’m just so thankful to God.” Kupp walks away with the Pete Rozelle Trophy.
News & Notes:
Rams safety Taylor Rapp is getting a ring — and giving a ring. Rapp proposed to his girlfriend Danielle Johnson last night — just minutes after winning his first-ever Super Bowl. (She said yes, obviously.)
Rapp proposed after the game, with a crowd of family and teammates watching. According to USA Today, Rapp and Johnson have been together for years; they dated while he was playing college football at Washington from 2016-2018, and the two dated when Rapp was playing high school football at Sehome High School in Bellingham, Washington.
Additionally, Van Jefferson welcomed a child just hours after winning the Super Bowl. Jefferson had to rush from the field immediately after the game because his wife Samaria went into labor. Samaria Jefferson had attended the game to support her husband but had to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher. Jefferson went to the hospital right after the game and later posted pictures hosting his newborn son in his arms.
“It was a great day, bro,” Jefferson said on Instagram Live. “I got three prizes today — my wife, my son and the Super Bowl.”
At least two Rams players may have played their last game of football. NBC’s Rodney Harrison reported earlier in the day Sunday that Aaron Donald may be considering retirement. Harrison claims Donald told there was a “strong possibility” that if the Rams won, he might call it a career. Donald sidestepped those questions about his future Sunday night, saying, “I’m just living in the moment.”
Meanwhile, OT Andrew Whitworth — who won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award on Thursday night — might be hanging up his cleats, too. “We’ll see,” Whitworth told People magazine. “More than likely this will be it. There’s always a scenario, but to me, I think I’ve accomplished about everything that I’d wanna accomplish in my career and I’ve got a lot of other things I want to do.”
One of those things includes time with family. The four-time Pro Bowler has his little ones — four kids with wife Melissa, to be exact — in mind as he finalizes his decision, too. “I’ve got a family that needs me and needs me to make it about them for a little while,” Whitworth says. “So we’ll see. More likely, this is it, though.”
Meanwhile, another Rams player has already called it quits. Safety Eric Weddle, who retired in Feb. 2020 after a 13-year career, came out of retirement in January to rejoin the Rams. Now, after winning his first Super Bowl, Weddle is exiting the game for good. “Yes, I am re-retiring. It was pretty much set in stone,” he told reporters in his postgame remarks.
Weddle had been coaching his son’s youth football team when he got the call that would change his career forever. Now, he appears poised to return to this life as a stay-at-home dad and Pop Warner football coach. “”I will go back to my daily life,” said Weddle, who tore his pectoral muscle during Sunday’s game. “Pretty banged up right now, but hey — it’s well worth it,” he said. “I have a lot of time to recover. [We’re] world champs, man.”
UPDATE (Feb. 16): The Rams celebrated their Super Bowl victory today with a boisterous parade near L.A’S Exposition Park. (According to the California Science Center, Exposition Park is a 160-acre campus that is home to world-class museums, educational and sport facilities and entertainment venues. Attractions include the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden.)
The parade kicked off at 11 a.m. as the team and their families made their way down Figueroa Street from the Shrine Auditorium on open-top buses, popping champagne bottles in celebration. Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp honored late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant by wearing a Bryant jersey. ‘Kobe is synonymous with L.A. I feel it’s only right,,’ Kupp said at the parade.
Fans clad in a sea of yellow and blue lined the streets as the champions traveled toward the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, where the Rams played from 2016-19 while SoFi Stadium was being built. That’s also where the Rams home was when they arrived in L.A. in 1946, per a local ABC affiliate. The Coliseum was home to the first-ever Super Bowl back in 1967. and today that’s where the parade culminated in a rally. Players and coaches addressed the crowd in enthusiastic speeches.
In his remarks, Rams head coach Sean McVay credited the entire team for bringing the championship title to L.A.: “I can’t say enough about this team,” he said. “The mental toughness, the resilience of this group – it took every single person. That’s the best part about football; it’s the greatest team sport there is. Our brightest stars shined their brightest. But it’s all about the team.”
We appreciate you guys so much,” said QB Matthew Stafford. “This is unbelievable to be out here today. It’s an unbelievable journey we’ve been on. So many ups and downs, but you know what? You were right there with us,” he told the crowd. “I am so blessed to be a part of this team. So many unbelievable teammates and players that I get the chance to play with. I’m hugging up every single one of these guys right here, just — just pinching myself for the opportunity to work with these guys It is unbelievable. We’re today to celebrate you guys for cheering for us al this time and us for making it happen, you know what I mean?” said Stafford, who appears to have enjoyed some Don Julio 1942 tequila.
Aaron Donald appears to have enjoyed his share of liquor, too. “I been havin’ a little fun tonight, so if I slur my words, I apologize,” Donald began as he spoke to the crowd. “We dreamed this for so long, man, so to be livin’ it right now with you guys, in L.A.??? We world champions. This is what it’s all about,” he continued. “I dreamed about this for so long, so to be here right now…that s–t real, man. I’m so in the moment right now. Like I said, I’ve been drinking a little bit, so we’re having a good time,” Donald said. “We’re World Champions!”
Andrew Whitworth offered some inspiring words in his speech. “Five years ago, I was told I was a little too old,” Whitworth said, via the Rams’ website. “I was told that maybe my time was done. And I tell you this for every single person sitting out there that’s ever doubted anything you’ve ever done: Bet on yourself, because five years later, I’m holding this trophy up, and I’m 40 years old. Let’s go. Don’t let anybody’s opinion of you ever become your reality. Bet on yourself. World damn champions!”