LA Rams clinch second Super Bowl title with nailbiting win over Bengals

The Los Angeles Rams have been accused of trading away their future to build a team of superstars, but their fans are unlikely to care when the present looks this good. Six years after the team returned to California – after a 20-year sojourn in St Louis – the Rams are Super Bowl champions for the second time in their history.

Their last title-winning team was led by a turbocharged offense known as the Greatest Show On Turf. This victory was a lot grittier but just as welcome.

“I can’t say enough about the resilience of this team,” Rams coach Sean McVay said after the game. “Guys stepping up when they had too and it’s going to sound like a broken record, but that’s what makes this team great. That’s why they’re world champs.”Advertisement

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford arrived in Los Angeles last March after spending the entirety of his career in the football wasteland of Detroit. The Rams hoped that he was the final piece in a team of stars that would push them to their first championship since the 1999 season. He certainly looked the part early on in this game. On his first throw, he connected on a short pass to Cam Akers for a first down. But the drive fizzled out and it was the Bengals’ chance to make an early impression.

It had taken Stafford 13 years to reach his first Super Bowl. His opposite number, Joe Burrow, had arrived here in just his second in the league. Like Stafford, he completed his first pass. The Bengals, showing the confidence of a team that had already beaten the No 1 seeded Tennessee Titans and fearsome Kansas City Chiefs to get to Sunday’s game, elected to go for it on fourth down at midfield. Burrow couldn’t complete his pass though and the Rams took over with excellent field position.

That was enough of an opportunity for Stafford. He connected with Cooper Kupp for 20 yards and then found Odell Beckham Jr with a 17-yard strike for a touchdown. Beckham tore into the NFL as a rookie in 2014, famous for his spectacular athleticism and ability to pull off breathtaking catches. In recent years he had been judged as little more than a walking distraction and, like Stafford, a player whose reputation fell short of his output. But the two men had given their team a vital early advantage, particularly when their formidable defensive line and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey are capable of shutting down opposing offenses.

It was Ramsey who broke up a would-be touchdown pass for the Bengals on third down at the end of the first quarter. Evan McPherson kicked the ensuing field goal to make it 7-3 and the Bengals were on the board.Advertisement

Stafford had supplied Beckham with a touchdown and he went to his other top receiver, Kupp, for his second. The 28-year-old had clocked up 1,947 receiving yards in the regular season, the second-highest total in NFL history, and few of his catches were easier than this one as he found himself free of any coverage in the end zone.

Burrow’s favorite target throughout this season has been his old college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. But neither player was involved in the Bengals’ opening touchdown, which came on their next drive. Running back Joe Mixon showed off his arm, finding Tee Higgins with a six-yard pass and the score was 13-10. It was the first time a running back had thrown a touchdown in a Super Bowl since January 1980.

Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth celebrates his team’s victory with Matthew Stafford’s daughter
Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth celebrates his team’s victory with Matthew Stafford’s daughter. Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock

Stafford was playing flawlessly but even when he’s at his best the siren song of an inadvisable pass is never far away. He duly delivered on the Rams’ next possession. At the Cincinnati 43-yard line he heaved it into the end zone and Jessie Bates leapt in front of Van Jefferson, who could have fought harder for the catch, to make the pick.

The teams went into half-time separated by a field goal but the game so far had not gone as most had predicted. The Rams defensive line, led by one-man wrecking crew, Aaron Donald, had been expected to tear into a Bengals offensive line that had failed to protect Burrow for much of the last two seasons. But Burrow was enjoying more time to find his targets than he was used to.

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