By Jack Savage
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Cincinnati Bengals were outshined by the Los Angeles Rams, falling 23-20 in Super Bowl LVI as their inexperience seemed to finally catch up with them. This young Bengal squad’s whole mantra throughout the postseason was, as quarterback Joe Burrow put it, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” That proved to work in their favor the past month as they marched their way through the AFC all the way to Los Angeles, giving off a team of destiny-like feel to them.
With three minutes left to go and the Bengals leading 20-16, the defense needed to come up with one last stop to capture its first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. However, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp had other plans, connecting on the go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:25 left in the game.
The Bengals defense had given up just three points in the second half but couldn’t get the franchise-defining stop at the end, which included a little bit of controversy. Cincinnati cornerback Chidobe Awuzie credited the Rams for making plays down the stretch, but he paused when asked about the penalty flag on linebacker Logan Wilson that awarded Los Angeles with a first down instead of having to face fourth-and-goal.
“You know, they threw a good punch there, and we weren’t able to kind of rally the troops,” Awuzie said. “But we fought. We got down to the red zone on third down, and Logan (Wilson) made a hell of a play I thought on Cooper Kupp, but then the penalty flag comes out. Obviously, I’m not a ref. I don’t know what happened on that play but we fought … we fought.”
The Rams took the lead, leaving Burrow with one last opportunity to lift his team into football immortality. However, Aaron Donald and company thwarted Burrow’s would-be coronation, stopping the Bengals on fourth down at midfield.
Cincinnati’s Achilles’ heel all year long, the offensive line, proved its undoing. No amount of magic from Joe Cool, Joe Shiesty, Joe Brrr, whatever you want to call him was going to overcome his porous pass protection. Burrow was under constant siege all game long, to the tune of a Super Bowl-record seven sacks.
The ending was a disappointment for Burrow, but he has perspective on how far his team came and how they have a lot to be proud of.
“I watched ‘A Football Life of Kurt Warner’ last week when we had a little break,” Burrow said. “You know, I kind of thought about this in the locker room. They lost one, and then later in the documentary he (Warner) said that they let it sting too much and that they didn’t celebrate what they accomplished. You know, obviously it stings. This game didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but we still have something to celebrate.”
Sorry we couldn’t get it done. Proud of our team and our fans. Love these guys
— Joey Burrow (@JoeyB) February 14, 2022
As disappointing as losing the Super Bowl is, Burrow and these young Bengals have positioned themselves well for the future. They have the most cap space among teams that made the postseason with $48.7 million and will be looking to upgrade an offensive line that gave up 70 sacks this year, third most all time. They have a youthful roster that now has experience on the game’s biggest stage, under the brightest of lights.
Jack Savage is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @jackksavage.