The Los Angeles Rams 23-20 victory over The Cincinnati Bengals had almost everything you could want from sports’ biggest game on the world’s biggest stage.
When Matthew Stafford hit Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp in the end zone from the one-yard line for the winning score with only 1:29 to play, and the Bengals last gasp ended with Joe Burrow in the grasp of Aaron Donald as a desperation flip toss fell harmlessly to the ground with only 39 seconds to play it completed the best post season in the history of the game.
In many ways, the game went exactly as we expected, but the ebb and flow of those events still left us on the edge of our seats until the very end.
We knew going in the team that ran the ball better would have a huge edge, and through 54 minutes the Bengals ran almost at will on 16 carries for 71 yards while the Rams couldn’t run it to save their lives, totaling 43 yards on 23 carries on the night.
But the Bengals couldn’t put the game away because they couldn’t convert 3rd downs, making only three of 14 tries.
We also knew the professor, Sean McVay, on the Rams sideline against one of his prize pupils; Bengals head coach Zac Taylor would be a great chess match.
It showed up just five minutes into the game on 4th and a full yard at the Rams 49 when Taylor gambled and lost after Rams linebacker Ernest Jones knocked down Burrow’s toss to Ja’Marr Chase.
The Rams the took just 3 ½ minutes to find the endzone on a 17-yard Stafford toss to Odell Beckham Jr. for the 7 – 0 lead.
Taylor was flawless from there on, but McVay stayed a step ahead of him.
His commitment to the run even though it didn’t work all night long was a clinic in play calling as he forced the Bengals to defend it any way creating the small holes Stafford found in their pass defense all night long.
Beckham Jr. was hot early adding a 35-yard catch and run to his opening TD, but he landed awkwardly on an incomplete toss from Stafford injuring his right knee and he was done for the evening.
The Bengals had just scored on a Joe Mixon halfback option pass to Tee Higgins four plays earlier to cut the Rams lead to 13-10 and with the OBJ injury all the momentum seemed to switch to the Bengals.
L.A. made it to the lockerroom with the lead at the half, but on the first play of the second half Higgins got away with a blatant offensive pass interference, yanking Jalen Ramsey out of his way by his facemask and gathering in a long toss from Burrow and taking it 75 yards to the house for Cincinnati’s first lead at 17-13.
The Rams offense struggled the rest of the game without OBJ, No. 2 receiver Tyler Higbee and his backup at tight end, Kendall Blanton, who went down early with a shoulder injury, but there was one other thing about this game we knew going in that turned out to be the difference.
Burrow was the most sacked quarterback in the league this season, the Rams brought one of the fiercest pass rushes, and it seemed unlikely Cincy’s beleaguered offensive line could protect Burrow well enough to win.
In the end, they couldn’t. Even though they allowed only one sack in the first half keeping them in the game, the Rams would drop Burrow six times in the second half, including two each for Donald and Von Miller, and the Bengals would score only three points over the final 29:50 of the game.
When the Rams got the ball with 6:13 to play, trailing 20-16, and the game reached a pivotal point it was time for Stafford and Kupp to take over, just as we expected .
They put together a 15-play, 79-yard drive that ate all but the final 1:29 off the clock going 2 for 3 on 3rd down and converting a 4th an 1 with a 7-yard run from Kupp, and he added four catches for 39 yards, including the game winner to seal his MVP award.
We knew going in the Bengals were an exciting, explosive young team with a few holes but as game as they come, and they proved to be Super Bowl worthy.
But we also knew the Rams were the more talented, veteran club with more playmakers on both side of the ball, and when push came to shove that proved to be the difference in the game.