© Getty Images

Rams edge out the Bengals

The Los Angeles Rams were favored to win the Super Bowl and rightly so, due to playing at home, having more experience and overall talent than their opponent. However, the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t only competitive, but came close to winning and definitely could’ve. Let’s take a look back at one of the most tightly contested Super Bowls.

The main reason I felt the Rams would win was because of the fact their pass rush includes Aaron Donald and Von Miller, while the Bengals offensive line has struggled to protect quarterback Joe Burrow all season and postseason long. The fact this team made it to the big game is a testament to how everyone else has stepped up. The Bengals defense had stepped up as the most points they allowed were 24 to the Kansas City Chiefs. They had been stout against the run during the regular season, but standing up to offenses that included Derek Carr, Derrick Henry, and Patrick Mahomes was very impressive. I won’t speak much of Joe Burrow along with his weapons like Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase. They have gotten a lot of attention and rightly so, as they are very explosive and exciting to watch. The only question is, can the offensive line give Burrow enough time to get the ball to these guys? Kicker Evan McPherson has also come up clutch with consecutive game winning field goals which goes to show how much of a team game football really is.

© CLNS

The Rams defense was the top unit last year, but went down to 21st this year despite the late season addition of Von Miller. The biggest difference with this team was on offense since they traded away quarterback Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford. One person said this was done because head coach Sean McVay wanted a partner instead of a student at quarterback. The fact Goff’s Detroit Lions struggled all season, while Stafford and the Rams made it to the Super Bowl shows there’s some truth to that statement though I’ll be fair and say the Lions struggles aren’t all on Goff. The offense got another boost when the team signed Odell Beckham, Jr after being waived by the Cleveland Browns. Injuries, character issues and low production had plagued Beckham while in Cleveland, but his production with the Rams showed he still has more than enough left in the tank. McVay and Stafford are possibly a perfect offensive powerhouse together, and they can thank the reliability of wide receiver Cooper Kupp for that.

© Los Angeles Rams

When the game started, I had a feeling it would somehow be close despite my initial feelings of the Bengals struggling to protect Joe Burrow. After all, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor worked under McVay for 2 years with the Rams before getting hired by Cincinnati, so there was bound to be some familiarity between the two teams. That being said, the Rams at one point had everyone feeling like this could be a blowout. Stafford found Beckham, Jr. to give the Rams an early lead. The Bengals responded with a field goal only to see the Rams drive again to score when Stafford hit Cooper Kupp to make it a double-digit lead. While the Bengals did come back from a big deficit against Kansas City, you felt they had to hold the Rams scoreless the rest of the half while at least chipping away with a field goal to have some momentum going into the second half. Cincinnati didn’t take long to respond as they scored on the following drive when Zac Taylor opened up the playbook when Joe Mixon threw a touchdown to Tee Higgins on a halfback pass. The Rams’ chances took a big hit when Beckham, Jr. left the game due to an injury. As soon as he grabbed his knee, you feared the worst and suspicions were confirmed as the next day it was reported he tore his ACL. The rest of the half was scoreless, and with the Bengals managing to cut the lead to 13–10 and given the nature of the close games they played recently, they had to be feeling good going into halftime.

© Yahoo! Sports

The momentum continued as Cincinnati scored on the first play of the second half, though it wasn’t without controversy. Joe Burrow found Tee Higgins on a 75-yard touchdown pass, but the replays showed that Higgins grabbed Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s facemask, which caused him to fall down on the play and allowed Higgins to catch the ball and score. Of course, New Orleans Saints fans everywhere probably thought this was karma after the infamous no-call in the 2018 NFC Championship Game that benefitted the Rams and hurt the Saints. The Rams then probably felt like it was pouring instead of just raining when the first pass of the next drive went through receiver Ben Skowronek’s hands and into the hands of the Cincinnati defense. If the Bengals managed to find the end zone, this would’ve been a quick turnaround as they could now be up by double digits. However, the Rams stood tall and held Cincinnati to a field goal to keep it a one score game.

© FOX Sports

The Rams answered this drive with a score of their own when Matt Gay kicked a field goal to cut the Bengal lead to only four. Neither offense could muster anything for a good while. The Rams got the ball back with a little over 6 minutes left in the game. Due to the way the game had gone in the second half, you felt this a make-or-break drive for Los Angeles. Head coach Sean McVay faced his first dilemma when the Rams had a 4th & 1 on their own 30-yard line with 5 minutes to go. McVay decided to go for it and put the ball in the hands of the most dependable player the Rams have on offense, Cooper Kupp. Kupp was in motion before the snap and received a handoff from Stafford which he took across the first down marker to keep the drive alive. This would be far from the last time Kupp would be involved on this drive.

© Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press

Kupp had a couple more first down catches along with drawing a key flag that gave Los Angeles a 1st and goal with under 2 minutes to go. On 2nd down, Stafford went back to throw and it was only appropriate that he found the most consistent player on offense, not only during this season but also in this game, Cooper Kupp. Kupp beat the embattled Eli Apple, who has been the weak spot in a Cincinnati defense that overall played pretty well. Los Angeles now led 23–20. Joe Burrow got the ball back with 1:25 to go and 2 timeouts left, so the question was, did the Rams score too quickly? It seemed that way when Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase for almost a 20-yard gain on the first play of the drive. The Bengals moved up to midfield and had a convertible 3rd & 1. They ran Joe Mixon to try and pick up the first down, only to see Aaron Donald make a big play and stop him, setting up a 4th down that could decide the game. Burrow went back to throw, but Donald got to him before he could step up and find a receiver. Burrow still managed to get off a desperation throw that Samaje Perine could’ve made a play on, but the ball fell to the ground and the Rams took over on downs. Later replays showed Ja’Marr Chase had beat Jalen Ramsey downfield and if Burrow had a bit more time to throw, he could’ve thrown a game winning touchdown to Chase.

© AP Photo/Matt Rourke

However, Aaron Donald showed why he’s one of the best defensive players in the league as he came up big on consecutive plays to end the Bengals chances of tying and maybe winning the game. Stafford took a knee and the clock ran out to seal a Rams championship. This would be the second consecutive year a team won the Super Bowl in their home stadium and the first championship for the Rams in Los Angeles as their other title was won while they played in St. Louis. Not surprisingly, Cooper Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP, and it was fitting as the Rams don’t score on that game winning drive without Kupp coming up clutch by getting open and being on the receiving end of Stafford’s throws.

© Parade

Stafford finally had a title to show for what’s been an overall good career that was mired with years of disappointment due to playing with the Detroit Lions up until now. The Rams pulled out all the stops to assembly a championship team and it paid off, as they now have a Super Bowl to show for it. Repeating is very difficult, and the key to them doing so will depend on the health of this team as they’re pretty veteran heavy. For the Bengals, you knew this team would be good, but not quite this quickly. Joe Burrow needs one thing and that’s protection from a good offensive line. He has many weapons on offense and a defense that shows they can play well, he just needs time to deliver. A coach that’s offense and quarterback friendly like Zac Taylor also works in his favor, so I find it hard to believe the Bengals won’t contend for a title again. That’s a wrap on the 2021 NFL Season. Now to wait until September when the weather starts to get cooler, the leaves start to fall, and professional football is again in full swing.

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Just a sports fanatic with a lot on his mind who loves sharing his experiences with anyone who wishes to listen.

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Christopher Rivas

Christopher Rivas

Just a sports fanatic with a lot on his mind who loves sharing his experiences with anyone who wishes to listen.

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