Cooper Kupp delivers again, this time when it mattered most

Yes, the Rams went all-in with big trades and signings. But don't forget the founding players — including the third-round pick that caught the Super Bowl's game-winning TD.

USA About: Rams Publish: 02/14/2022 Edit: 02/14/2022 Author: Gardener

Cooper KuppCooper Kupp catches his second touchdown of the game to take a late lead for the Rams in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVI. Cooper Kupp catches his second touchdown of the game to take a late lead for the Rams in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVI. -- The story we've been told about the Los Angeles Rams is that they went "all-in" to win this particular Super Bowl. What defines their team building approach is the fact that they're constantly trading first-round picks for win-now helpers, damn it. But when they were looking to lose the Super Bowl to the Cincinnati Bengals, the guy who saved the Rams was the receiver they drafted from east Washington in the third round five years ago. And the guy who sealed the win was a first-round pick they made themselves in 2014. Cooper Kupp caught eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns to win Super Bowl MVP honors as the Rams came back in the fourth quarter and defeated the Bengals on Sunday night. Four of those catches, 39 of those yards and one of those touchdowns came in the 15-game drive in the fourth quarter that turned a 20-16 Cincinnati lead into a 23-20 Rams win. It was quarterback Matthew Stafford's signature career drive, who had 45 career game-winning drives and was himself one of those "all-in" moves the Rams made to win that year. His biggest play on the drive wasn't a catch at all - it was a 7-yard run play from his own 30-yard line in fourth and 1 with five minutes left in the game. almost certainly loses the game if they don't get that yard. The Rams couldn't run the ball all night. "Whatever is asked of me, whatever my job is going to be in a certain game, in a certain game, I just want to do it to the best of my ability," Kupp said. "We picked up a little bit of speed on that last drive, which kept [the Bengals] in some zone calls and that allowed Matthew and I to find some weaknesses in that." Kupp was the man Stafford was always looking for and looked again and again, all season long, when he had to play. What year was Kupp exactly? Well, he led the NFL in catches (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16) for the Triple Crown wide receiver. He was named Offensive Player of the Year. And he capped it off with a Super Bowl MVP award. Kupp just did them all in one season. "You guys hear me talk about 'competition size' until I'm blue in the face," said Rams coach Sean McVay. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow found Tee Higgins for a 75-yard touchdown pass in the first game of the second half. Then, on the Rams' first offensive play in the second half, Stafford threw his second interception of the game, and the Bengals converted that into a field goal. Cincinnati, which had shown as much toughness as any other team this NFL postseason, suddenly had a 20-13 lead and choked the Rams offense with its defensive line. (another "win-now" pickup they made in November after the Browns cut him) to a second-quarter knee injury. Early in the tight end, Tyler Higbee was inactive in the NFC Championship Game due to a knee injury. The Rams rushed for 43 yards on 23 carries in the game. After the field goal that cut the lead to 20-16, they went three in a row and out with three possessions in a row. The Rams couldn't execute it, and with essentially no other options in the passing game, the Bengals could turn their full attention to Kupp. "They made it really difficult," McVay said. “I have a lot of respect for this Bengal defense. When we got into the red zone it felt like it was like 60 games for us to finally get this on the fade. Cooper Kupp is the man." "It was tough," said Stafford. The Rams had to beat the Bengals to win that one and they hardened in all the right places. Six of their seven sacks from Burrow came in the second half, including two from Von Miller and two from Aaron Donald, whose pressure from Burrow in the Bengals' final quarter-and-1 game helped force an incomplete and seal the Rams' championship Miller was also one of the win-nows -Moves by the Rams. They sent him second- and third-round picks to the Denver Broncos at the close of trade, and he absolutely made a difference.Miller had nine sacks in the Rams' last eight games (four regular-season and four postseason games) and L. Miller amplified the passing rush in fearsome ways, but he also gave the Rams dressing room a player who had done it before.He was a Super Bowl MVP with a dominating display against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers just six years ago, and a team that thought they were doing very well was able to grow into a great team with the help of someone with direct experience in that very arena. But for every shiny acquisition, the Rams have a fundamental player who owns them. Donald was the Rams' No. 12 overall in 2014, at a time when they were still highly selected in the round. The Rams won't win this Super Bowl without Donald taking over in the second half. "Guys like Aaron are why you train," McVay said. Donald was a first-round pick in 2014. Kupp was a third-round player in 2017. All the key defensive players, all the 2019 Rams draft picks. Brycen Hopkins, a fourth-rounder in 2020 who had to stand in for the injured Higbee, had four catches for 47 yards in the Super Bowl. Prior to Sunday, he had one catch overall in his NFL career. So yes, with all the talk about "putting all their chips in," these Rams owe this title as much to the players who drafted and developed them as to those who just showed up. Though they haven't made a first-round pick since McVay in 2017 (and they don't have one this year either), they've made 45 decisions in Rounds 2-7, more than any other team besides Minnesota in the past five years . Their current roster includes 29 draft picks of their own, a number that ranks among the top 10 in the league. Their strategy for building rosters is much more nuanced than "they trade all their picks for veterans". What they're doing is trading the late first round picks for people who can help them now. As late as the Rams usually pick in the first round, they won't be getting any players they have first-round grades on anyway. So why not use these picks instead to get a Matthew Stafford or a Jalen Ramsey to help get you over the top? "I'm really proud to be associated with a group that isn't afraid to take their shot," McVay said. Do you think the Buccaneers won last year's Super Bowl just because they signed Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown? The Bucs had already laid the foundation for a strong roster before these guys ever got there. When they dealt out for Stafford last winter, the Rams were already pretty good. They lost the Super Bowl just three years ago, made the playoffs in four of McVay's five years, and have 500+ points in all five years. They made the move for Stafford because they felt it would take them from very good to championship caliber and the results will show that it did. But Stafford doesn't go through with it without Kupp being there to reel in his passes. Kupp caught 33 passes in four games this postseason, the most in NFL history. After finishing the regular season with the second-most receiving yards of all time, he amassed the second-most receiving yards anyone ever had in a single postseason: 478, behind only Larry Fitzgerald. His six touchdown catches were the second most in a single postseason. And his 22 total touchdowns this year, regular and postseason, are the second-highest behind Randy Moss' 24 in 2007. Kupp is the emblem of who the Rams are and what they do before the "all-in" moves were that got all the attention. He was injured three years ago and missed his team's Super Bowl loss to the Rams, but he said Sunday night that after that game he had a vision that he would eventually be at the end of the Super Bowl. "I just feel so unworthy of all these prizes and awards," said Kupp. "I can play from a place of freedom and have great teammates around me." The wrestlers who have come on for this year and the veteran players like Kupp and Donald who have laid a solid foundation for those moves to pay off. These Rams may have been "all in" for this year, but don't be surprised to see them back on top anytime soon. And on Sunday night it became Super Bowl champion.

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