USA About: Rams Publish: 02/14/2022 Edit: 02/14/2022 Author: Gardener
-- Essentially picking up a Super Bowl-or-bust theme, the Los Angeles Rams' 2021 season concluded Sunday night in Hollywood as Sean McVay and his team overcame a series of potentially crippling twists and turns to go 23-20 achieve comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Ahead of Super Bowl 56, McVay reiterated a simple but challenging message to his team. Back in the Super Bowl, three years after an embarrassing championship loss to the New England Patriots at the end of the 2018 season, McVay knew all too well how negative pressure can work on players -- and even coaches -- and force them to make untypical mistakes. MORE: Sean McVay becomes youngest NFL coach to win Super Bowl as Rams beat Bengals SUPER BOWL TAKEAWYS: Cooper Kupp gets through in clutch, Rams puts pressure on Joe Burrow Facing a chance for redemption this week, McVay warned his players not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge. Despite a harrowing second quarter that left wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. injured late in the game and a stuttering third quarter, the Rams managed to do exactly what McVay preached. And in the end, it was the biggest stars who prevailed for the Rams as Cooper Kupp, who finished as Super Bowl MVP after notching eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns, awoke from a quiet second half to Matthew Stafford to save a clutch catch in the last five minutes of the game. Then Aaron Donald, the defense's longtime anchor, single-handedly crushed Joe Burrow and the Bengals' comeback hopes with a monstrous sack of seconds remaining in regulation. After aggressive gamble after aggressive gamble -- shipping top-tier draft picks to big names -- the Rams finally won their championship and cemented their claim to a fan base they've been trying to lock down since moving to Los Angeles in 2016. The Rams had orchestrated an impressive start to the game with touchdown drives crowned by Stafford touchdown passes to Jr. and then to Kupp, the latter of which gave them a 13-3 lead just minutes into the second quarter procured before Cincinnati. Five times this season (three times in the regular season, two times in the postseason), Burrow managed either a fourth-quarter comeback or a game-winning drive. The most recent came in the AFC Championship game, when the Bengals recovered after falling into a 21-3 hole and clawed all the way back to beat Super Bowl favorites Kansas City 27-24 in overtime. And the cool, unabashed, and even brave demeanors of Burrow and coach Zac Taylor were on display as the Bengals methodically assembled an impressive drive that was topped by tricks — pulling a pass from running back Joe Mixon to wide receiver Tee Higgins from within 13-10, and then momentum completely changed the direction of the Bengals thanks to a series of unfortunate events for the Rams. First, Beckham went down clutching his knee after trying in vain to adjust to a pass thrown from behind him. A. another top-flight playmaker but who also eased the pressure on Kupp didn't come back into the game. Then, five games after Beckham's elimination, Stafford subdued a pass intended for Van Jefferson in the end zone, and Cincinnati's Jessie Bates III picked it up. Halftime did nothing to reverse the wave as Burrow hit Higgins with a 75-yard touchdown pass in the first game of the third quarter and Stafford promptly threw another interception — this time out of the hands of wide receiver Ben Skowronek and into the Clutches from cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who set up a field goal that set up a 38-yard field goal by Evan McPherson. Later in the quarter, the Rams tried to create a spark with a back pass from Kupp to Stafford, but the receiver's throw sailed up and over his quarterback's head, and the Rams had to settle for a 41-yard field from Matt Gay Goal that only reduced the score to 20:16. The Rams can thank their lucky stars for having such a talented defense, as the unit anchored by Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd harassed Burrow throughout the second half, keeping the Bengals at bay and essentially keeping their team in the game. Burrow was looted nine times during the night, two each by Donald and Miller. As the game reached its crucial points, the Rams went to their bread and butter: Stafford vs. Kupp, Stafford vs. Kupp, Stafford vs. Kupp again, including the game-winning touchdown — and then Donald slammed the door with the sack from Burrow, stalked over the field and pointed to his ring finger.
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