The Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI 23-20 in front of a home crowd Sunday in a heartbreaker for a Cincinnati Bengals team brimming with young talent.
It was the Rams’ first Super Bowl championship as an L.A. team and its second in franchise history. Including the pre-Super Bowl era, the franchise has won four NFL championships.
The Rams, looking right at home in the $5 billion Inglewood stadium built by team owner Stan Kroenke, scored within seven minutes of kickoff. The Bengals answered with a rapid march downfield that ended in a field goal.
The Rams scored again on a pass to from Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp but missed the extra point. Cincinnati capitalized by going 75 yards in 12 plays, scoring on a 6-yard trick-play touchdown pass from running back Joe Mixon to Tee Higgins to cut the score to 13-10 at the half.
L.A. started the game as 4.5-point favorites.
At the half, Rams coach Sean McVay said his team needed to hone its winning strategy. “We’ve got to be more efficient on early downs,” he said from the sideline.
But the action exploded in the second half as Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Higgins after just 12 seconds.
After the Bengals kicked off, Chidobe Awuzie picked off a Stafford pass for another shot at the end zone. But they settled for a field goal make it 20-16 Cincinnati.
It was a game of survival.
Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left the game with an injury in the first half. Stafford temporarily limped off in the second half, followed by Burrow, who was hurt on a fourth-quarter sack, one of six the Rams recorded in the second half.
Stafford returned and led his team on a heroic drive that ended with touchdown pass to Kupp, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. The extra point gave the Rams a 23-20 lead with 1:25 left in the game.
The Rams shut down the Bengals’ final drive to close out the game.
McVay was overjoyed to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“So many contributions,” he said. “It’s about the team. I’m so happy for these players.”
Kupp attributed the win to his teammates.
“I’m not really deserving of this,” he said of his MVP award.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor had nothing bad to say about his team’s season. He praised it for getting to SoFi Stadium after having won just four games the season before.
“It’s a hard road to get to the Super Bowl,” he said. “I’ll never take this group for granted.”
The game might be remembered for its unlikely competitors — both teams were conference fourth seeds seen as long-shot Super Bowl contenders — and its place as a symbol of a changing of the guard for NFL’s superstar talent.
The Bengals’ route to SoFi included their win over Kansas City on Jan. 30, when the Chiefs’ fellow new-generation quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, threw an interception that allowed the Bengals to win with a field goal in overtime.
For L.A., the ticket to the Super Bowl included a win over San Francisco the same day. The Rams had previously lost six in a row to the 49ers.
One of the game’s Cinderella stories was that of Rams safety Eric Weddle, who had retired to San Diego after 13 seasons in the NFL, his last with the Rams in 2019.
The team asked him to return to fill a personnel gap caused by injuries, and Weddle, 37, was in the game for his first Super Bowl. “Is this real? Is this real life?” he asked last week.
Elsewhere, the league lost two of its living monuments when they retired this season: Tom Brady, perhaps the game’s greatest-ever quarterback, if not player, and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, who bowed out after an 18-season career likely headed for Hall of Fame recognition.
It was only the fourth Super Bowl in 21 seasons that didn’t feature Brady, Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning, who retired as a member of the Denver Broncos in 2016 after 18 seasons in the league.
The NFL didn’t have to wait for the next potential superstars to step up. At 25, Burrow displayed agility on the ground and in the air as Stafford, 34, struggled with sacks and an interception.
It was only the second Super Bowl to feature two top draft picks at quarterback, Burrow and Stafford, head to head.
But the youth story of the Super Bowl belonged to two of the youngest coaches ever to make it there: McVay, 36, of the Rams, and Taylor, 38, of the Bengals. The two made for the youngest head coaching matchup in Super Bowl history.
Both helmed their teams’ unlikely journeys to the Super Bowl and into the Hollywood spotlight.