Rams stars shine brightest in 23-20 Super Bowl victory

Aaron Donald rides with his children in a golf cart after the Super Bowl. (JA Adande/Medill Chicago)

By JP Acosta
Medill Reports

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The NFL couldn’t resist playing up all the Hollywood tropes for the first Super Bowl played in the Los Angeles area since 1993, right through a pregame video shown in SoFi Stadium in which Halle Berry advised fans to think of the game as “the next great Hollywood movie.” The Los Angeles Rams played right along, providing the dramatic ending to Super Bowl LVI in a thrilling 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Rams’ second Super Bowl.

On a night when stars such as Kevin Hart, Chris Tucker and The Rock made appearances, it was the Rams’ stars who shined the brightest in the biggest moments of the game. Or, as Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald put it, “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”

Donald saved his best for the final game of the season, notching two sacks and three tackles for loss, including a crucial 3rd-and-1 stop on Bengals running back Semaje Perine that resembled Captain America holding the helicopter from flying away in “Captain America: Civil War.” The Rams defense kept the game close as the offense struggled to find a rhythm, making life difficult for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.  Los Angeles sacked Burrow seven times in the game, tying a Super Bowl record. According to Next Gen Stats, the Rams pressured Burrow on 41.5% of his dropbacks, a season high for the Rams defense. 

The most impactful play came with 43 seconds left, on fourth down, as Donald pressured Burrow into an incompletion and a turnover on downs. Donald ripped his helmet off and pointed to the ring finger on his left hand, the exact same pose he made after the NFC championship game. This time, he can actually put a ring on it.

“Guys like him are why you coach,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Greatness is making everyone around you better in every situation, and that’s what Aaron does. He is the effing man.”

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns, but the most important touchdown of the season – and his career – went to Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, who was as good of a co-star as anyone could imagine. Think Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in “A Star is Born,” except instead of singing duets together, they’re shredding defenses. The connection both players had with each culminated with a 1-yard fade route to give the Rams the lead with 1:25 left in the game.

“Coop did a great job on his route,” Stafford said. “I tried to put it in a good spot, and he made a great catch.”

Stafford putting it in good spots and Kupp coming down with great catches seemed to be the theme of that go-ahead TD drive for the Rams, who struggled through a majority of the game after wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went out with a knee injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. Stafford hit Kupp on four of the Rams’ 15 plays on that final drive and targeted Kupp an additional three more times, including a dazzling 22-yard catch that Stafford whizzed past Bengals safety Vonn Bell’s outstretched hand. McVay trusted the quarterback traded for this offseason and now has a Super Bowl ring because of it. 

“You put the ball in your best player’s hands when it matters most,” McVay said. “That’s what we did with Matthew, and he delivered in a big way. He’s a world champ.”

Cut, print, that’s a wrap.

JP Acosta is a graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter @acosta32_jp.