After all the buildup and hype surrounding the Super Bowl passed and the clock hit zeroes, it was the Los Angeles Rams hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as the team captured its second Super Bowl championship in franchise history with a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Rams started the 2021 season with “Super Bowl or bust” expectations after bringing over quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. The off-season trade sent a number of draft picks Detroit’s way and also included former first round pick and Rams quarterback, Jared Goff. Many believed that the trade for Stafford was exactly what the Rams needed to put them over the top. After signing star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. at the midway point of the season following his release from the Cleveland Browns and later trading with the Denver Broncos for Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, the high expectations were further magnified.
On the other hand, the Bengals entered the season with the focus of second year quarterback, Joe Burrow, making his return from a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of his fine rookie campaign. To help with Burrow’s development into the franchise quarterback Cincinnati hoped for when selecting him with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, the Bengals drafted Burrow’s LSU college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, in the first round of the 2021 draft. The duo that helped bring a national championship to LSU turned out to be a major success in the NFL as Chase turned in one of the best seasons by a rookie wide receiver in NFL history. Still, the Super Bowl was a longshot for a Cincinnati team that finished the 2020 season with a 4-11-1 record.
The Bengals proved they belonged in the Super Bowl after winning the AFC North and picking up impressive playoff victories over the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans, and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Rams also won their respective division and were dealt with the task of defeating division rivals Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers along with the defending champs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, en route to the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl started with a defensive stand by both sides that included a huge 4th down stop by the Rams at the 49 yard line. The failed 4th down conversion by the Bengals set up the Rams with great field position for their second drive and with 6:26 to play in the 1st quarter, Stafford completed a 17 yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. to score the game’s first touchdown.
The Bengals were struggling to move the ball on offense until their third drive of the game when Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase connected on a beautiful throw and catch that went for 46 yards. The drive ended up halting at the 11 yard line before kicker Evan McPherson nailed a 29 yard field goal to put the Bengals on the board late in the 1st quarter.
The Rams followed the Bengals scoring drive with one of their own to open the 2nd quarter. A 35 yard reception by Odell set up the Rams in prime position to add to their lead. They did just that with an 11 yard touchdown pass from Stafford to 2021 Offensive Player of the Year, Cooper Kupp. However, the extra point was mishandled and the score stayed a ten point lead for the Rams.
The Bengals needed a response on offense and they got just that with a twelve play touchdown drive. The drive concluded with a trick play touchdown pass by Bengals running back Joe Mixon to wide receiver Tee Higgins. The toss to Mixon had everyone believing that the Bengals were running the ball inside the 10 yard line, which allowed Higgins to sneak open in the back of the end zone.
On the ensuing drive, Odell suffered a non contact injury that seemed to be a huge blow for the Rams. It was later determined that he would not return to the game and that the injury is believed to be a torn ACL. A few plays after the injury, Bengals safety Jessie Bates III intercepted a Stafford pass in the end zone intended for Rams receiver Van Jefferson. The interception helped keep it a 13-10 deficit for the Bengals at the end of the 1st half.
The start of the 2nd half provided a huge shift in momentum towards the Bengals. On the first play of the half, Burrow launched a deep pass that was completed to Higgins and taken in for a touchdown to give Cincinnati their first lead of the game. Replay appeared to show Higgins get away with a facemask on Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey prior to the catch but no call was made and Higgins had his second touchdown of the big game.
Momentum stayed on the side of the Bengals after the long touchdown. On the first play of the Rams drive following the score, another Stafford pass was intercepted by the Bengals after Rams receiver Ben Skowronek could not corral the pass as it deflected right into the hands of Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. The Benglas had a prime opportunity to add to their lead but were only able to add three points on a 38 yard field goal by McPherson. The Bengals now led by 7.
After the Rams drove down the field and cut the deficit to four points on a 41 yard field goal by Los Angeles kicker Matt Gay, the score remained 20-16 Bengals through the rest of the 3rd quarter and for much of the final quarter. Both teams were playing excellent defense and the loss of Odell factored in on the Rams struggle to move the ball offensively.
With their Super Bowl chances dwindling, the Rams would eventually get the ball back with 6:13 remaining in the 4th quarter. A huge 7 yard rush by Kupp on 4th and 1 helped keep the Los Angeles drive alive. A few plays later, Stafford connected on a dime with Kupp for a gain of 22 yards to put the Rams in solid position to score a go ahead touchdown. Los Angeles running back Cam Akers powered through the middle for a gain of 8 to set the Rams up inside the 10 at the game’s two minute warning.
On 3rd and goal with 1:47 to play, Stafford sent a pass in the direction of Kupp that got knocked down by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. A flag was thrown after the play and the referees called a very controversial penalty on Wilson for holding Kupp prior to the pass. The penalty set up the Rams with 1st and goal inside the 5 yard line. After a series of penalties by both sides, the Rams had a 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line. With a championship on the line, you look for the players that got you to that position and the Rams did just that. Stafford lobbed up a perfect back shoulder fade that only Kupp could catch and he hauled it in for the late score to give Los Angeles the lead back.
The Bengals would get one more shot to march down the field and kick a game tying field goal. They still had their three timeouts left and 1:25 on the clock. The first play of the drive appeared to set them up in good shape after a 17 yard catch by Chase but three plays later and Cincinnati’s season would be on the line. It was 4th and 1 at the 49 yard line. A stop for the Rams wins them the Super Bowl and a conversion for the Bengals keeps the drive and title hopes alive. The ball was snapped and none other than three time defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald, got right in the face of Burrow and forced him to make an arid throw.
The incomplete pass led to a turnover on downs and all that was separating the Rams from being Super Bowl champions was a quarterback kneel. Stafford did just that and the clock bled down to zero. The Rams win the Super Bowl. Through all the confetti and celebration, Cooper Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP for hauling in two touchdown passes while posting 8 catches for 92 yards.
To watch some of the highlights from the big game,