Super Bowl LVI – Rams butt Bengals in tight clash

American Football's biggest event sees underdogs narrowly beaten out

Sam Slater
22nd February 2022

The 56th showpiece game in the NFL calendar was one worthy of the hype – not even a Larry David crypto ad could ruin it.

The solitary Super Bowl win between the Rams and the Bengals was the lowest number of previous titles between franchises in the Super Bowl since 2000, when coincidentally the Rams defeated the still title-less Titans.

The Rams have found a resurgence since moving back to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016. Hiring Sean McVey, who at the time became the youngest NFL head coach in history proved a master stroke, the faith being repaid swiftly with an appearance at Super Bowl LIII in 2019. A bright start to the season, the Rams were 7-1 before three consecutive losses in November. However, key trades mid-season trades bolstered the team with Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller joining from the Denver Broncos and Odell Beckham Jr. signing from free agency. With Cooper Kupp already having one of the best NFL seasons on record and Aaron Donald excellent as ever the Rams offence was formidable, the defence seemingly impenetrable. Expertly navigating the mid-season ‘favourites’ tag, the Rams finished 12-5, narrowly defeating the Buccaneers and 49ers to claim their second NFC Championship in four seasons.

The Bengals have not had such recent fortune. Their victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in their Wild Card game was their first playoff victory in 31 years, a draught worthy of being the longest in NFL history. A modest 10-7 record was enough to clinch the AFC North title, their first winning season since 2015. Echoing the grit and determination of the 2007 Giants, the Bengals seemed to relish in their underdog status on their playoff run with second year QB Joe Burrow effectively linking up with Cincinnati’s first round draft pick Ja’Marr Chase as they dispatched the Titans and the Chiefs. The mouth-watering tie between the star-studded Rams and the youthful Bengals carrying momentum and popular support was a promising match-up.

The teams were introduced at the SoFi stadium in Inglewood, California (the second time the Super Bowl has been played at the home stadium of a competing team in as many years) by Dwayne Johnson, an early reminder that this game is as much about the event as it is the sport.

The sense of event was made much larger during the half time show, with a west coast living legends display delivered by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar as a fully masked Kanye West watched on.

The first quarter saw a tight contest, with both teams struggling to make inroads before Kupp caught a key 20-yard pass from Stafford to get close to the red zone before Beckham Jr. made a 17-yard reception to open the scoring. The Bengals responded with a sensational 46-yard pass from Burrow to Chase, yet a failure to capitalise and only coming with more than a field goal served a reminder the Rams defence would not be beaten easily.

The Rams started the second quarter brightly, continuing their drive and marching towards the endzone where Kupp made an 11-yard reception. However, mishandling the snap meant they failed to convert the extra point – a potentially devastating mistake to make at any time, never mind in the Super Bowl. The Bengals seemed emboldened by this error, Burrow leading a march down the field with a well-rehearsed halfback pass from Joe Mixon caught for a touchdown, narrowing the Rams lead to just three points heading into half time. Late drama in the first half saw Beckham Jr. injuring his knee by twisting awkwardly on the artificial turf – suddenly the Rams no longer looked comfortable.

Late drama in the first half saw Beckham Jr. injuring his knee by twisting awkwardly on the artificial turf

Seconds into the second half, Burrow found Higgins with a deep pass resulting in a touchdown and the Bengals taking the lead for the first time in the game, setting the score at 17-13. However, replays showed Higgins grabbing Ramsey’s facemask before making the catch, though no penalty flag was thrown. An interception seconds after the restart meant things went from bad to worse for the Rams, with an Evan McPherson field goal stretching Cincinnati’s lead to seven points. Matt Gay was able to respond with a 41-yard attempt, before the tight contest in the first half resumed as the quarter ended 20-16.

The tight contest continued into the fourth quarter, with the Bengals defence trying valiantly to defend their lead. A flurry of penalty flags would be their undoing, giving the Rams several attempts to get the touchdown they needed to retake the lead. The amount of time eaten up by the Rams drive meant following Kupp’s 1-yard touchdown reception the Bengals were left with only 1:25 on the clock to score a field goal to equalise. Swift receptions saw the Bengals break into the Rams half, yet the Rams defence held firm, pushing the Bengals to a fourth down. With only one yard required for a new set of downs with a timeout and 43 seconds on the clock, Donald broke through the Bengals offensive line and tackled Burrow, keeping the score at 23-20 to give the Rams their second Super Bowl title with Kupp named MVP.

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