The Rams’ Hollywood Ending

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Issue 12, Volume 112

By Sathirtha Mondal 

Forget the “City of Angels,” because Los Angeles is once again the “City of Champions” after the Los Angeles Rams edged out the Cincinnati Bengals in a thrilling 23-20 victory in Super Bowl LVI.

The Rams’ victory has been years in the making and is a testament to their aggressive, all-in approach as they built a star-studded roster. It’s the same strategy that had earned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a championship the year prior when they acquired veterans like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Leonard Fournette. The Rams began to cash in beginning in 2019, when they traded away their first round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars and secured cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Since then, they have exhausted their salary cap and traded away even more draft picks, favoring older, more established players. They traded away quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. They also added eight-time Pro-Bowl Denver Broncos star Von Miller to their already deadly defensive line and Odell Beckham Jr. to their developing offense. In doing so, they emphasized one point: it was championship or bust.

After a dominant 12-5 season to top the NFC West, the Rams marched into the playoffs with great confidence. They dominated the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round, upset the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the divisional round, and rallied back from a 10-point deficit to overthrow the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Conference Championships. Their valiant effort throughout the playoff stage earned them a spot in Super Bowl LVI against the notorious Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals, one of the only teams in the NFL to have never won a super bowl, boasted a stellar season of their own as a result of a few key moves. Back in 2019, they had replaced then head coach Marvin Lewis with Zac Taylor, who spruced up the coaching staff with Brian Callahan as the offensive coordinator and Lou Anarumo as the defensive coordinator.

Fast forward to the 2020 NFL Draft and the Bengals had acquired LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with their No. 1 overall pick. They also acquired wideout Tee Higgins, linebacker Logan Wilson, safety Vonn Bell and later on, in the 2021 NFL draft, receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Their new acquisitions proved effective as they climbed their way to the top of the AFC North in the 2021 season. They knocked out the Raiders in the Wild Card round. The Bengals then ended their 33-year Conference Championship drought by upsetting the number one seed, the Tennessee Titans. To top it off, they secured their third-ever Super Bowl appearance with their most improbable victory of all in a late comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the opening minutes of the Super Bowl, the Rams found themselves in a favorable field position with an early fourth down stop. They scored the opening goal with a 50-yard drive and touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow soon responded with a 46-yard pass to receiver Ja’Marr Chase, though they settled for a field goal. After another touchdown from Stafford, this time to receiver Cooper Kupp, the Rams sat comfortably with a 13-3 lead—but perhaps they played too comfortably. The Bengals provided an immediate response with a six-yard trick play touchdown from running back Joe Mixon to wide-open receiver Tee Higgins. Immediately, things took a turn for the worse for Los Angeles. Beckham suffered a knee injury which cost him the remainder of the game. Five plays later, Stafford threw an interception in the end zone, though the Bengals were unable to capitalize on the ensuing drive. The half closed out with the Rams leading 13-10.

After a legendary halftime show starring hip-hop royalty Dr. Dre, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, and Snoop Dogg, Cincinnati took control in the third quarter. With a 75-yard touchdown from Burrow to Higgins, the Bengals took a 17-13 lead within seconds. The play raised some attention due to an evident facemask foul that was not called, allowing the play to stand. Stafford threw yet another interception that led to a Bengals field goal, extending their lead to seven points. However, when the Rams needed it most, their defensive line finally stepped up. After only one sack on Burrow in the first half, the Rams defense amassed six more in the second half. For the last 25 minutes of the game, they denied the Bengals any points, forcing consecutive punts and regaining possession. With a field goal from kicker Matt Gay to finish the third quarter and a last-minute touchdown from Stafford to Kupp, the Rams reclaimed the lead.

With one minute and twenty-five seconds remaining in the game, two timeouts, and 75 yards to travel to tie or win the game, the football fell into Burrow’s hands. However, with a final stop on fourth-and-1 by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams secured their second-ever Super Bowl win. The win was momentous, marking the first Super Bowl victory for several players on the roster, including Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford. With eight catches, 92 yards, and two touchdowns, Kupp was honorably named Super Bowl MVP. The title capped perhaps the greatest season for a wide receiver: Kupp finished with 145 caught passes, 1947 yards, and 16 touchdowns. The anchor of the Rams’ defense, the legendary Aaron Donald, secured his first ring, achieving the sole milestone missing from his career. Donald already boasts one of the most decorated careers in the NFL with a record three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, eight Pro Bowl selections, and seven first-team All-Pro honors.

The Rams look to repeat as champions but will have to be innovative due to their limited salary cap and draft picks. Regardless, they are doing everything in their power to keep the core of their roster together, with a focus on Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr., and Aaron Donald. But for now, the Rams don’t need to stress about a Super Bowl sequel. After their strategic gamble paid off, it’s safe to say that they pose a threat to the league in the seasons ahead.