Super Bowl 56 takeaways: Cooper Kupp comes through in the clutch, Rams put pressure on Joe Burrow
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Rams won their first Super Bowl for the city of Los Angeles on Sunday, outlasting the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, in Super Bowl 56. In the latest Super Sunday thriller, LA persevered to score the game-winning TD in the final two minutes and watched its defense hold Joe Burrow and Co. – just enough – on Cincy's final drive.
A team that went all in for the Lombardi Trophy, the Rams got a game-winning TD pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford, a touchdown catch by wideout Odell Beckham Jr. before he was lost to a second-quarter knee injury and two sacks (and plenty of pressure) from edge rusher Von Miller, a Super Bowl MVP six years ago. A Hollywood ending for a team that bet it all, but not before some major plot twists.
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Cooper Kupp comes through
The Rams' All-Pro receiver – also the NFL's 2021 offensive player of the year and Super Bowl 56's MVP – came through when he was needed most. With a depleted offense frequently scuffling after halftime, Kupp scored the decisive 1-yard TD with 85 seconds left in the game – and three plays after he took a wicked shot to the head on a TD catch that was nullified by a Rams holding penalty. Kupp's remarkable 2021 season ends with 178 catches, 2,425 yards and 22 TDs in 21 games.
Bold Zac Taylor
The Bengals coach often seems to get aggressive in some questionable spots, and his bold calls produced more mixed results. He went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Rams' 49-yard line on Cincinnati's first drive, but QB Joe Burrow's pass was batted down. LA scored the game's first TD six plays later. But Taylor remained undeterred. Cincy notched its first TD of the day on a 6-yard halfback option from running back Joe Mixon to receiver Tee Higgins. Later, the Bengals dialed up a deep shot to start the second half, and it resulted in a 75-yard TD pass from Burrow to Higgins that put the Bengals up 17-13. Taylor went for it again on fourth-and-1 from the Rams' 22 on the next possession, and Burrow picked up the first on a 4-yard scramble ... though Cincinnati eventually had to settle for a field goal. Taylor went for it on fourth-and-1 one final time, again from the Rams' 49 – opting against an even riskier 67-yard field goal try from rookie Evan McPherson – but Burrow couldn't get a completion under duress on what turned out to be Cincy's final play with 39 seconds left.
Joe Burrow under pressure
Another rough day for the Bengals offensive line. Burrow was sacked a league-most 51 times in the regular season and 12 more in Cincinnati's three playoff wins. Yet even though he often got the ball out quickly Sunday, Burrow went down seven more times and didn't get sufficient protection on his final throw of the day.
In his first Super Bowl appearance, Beckham got off to a hot start with two catches for 52 yards – including a 17-yard TD catch midway through the first quarter that opened the scoring. But he was hurt shortly before the half with LA leading 13-10. Sans Beckham and tight end Tyler Higbee – he was second on the team this season with 61 catches but didn't play due to a knee injury – the Rams offense bogged down, gaining 129 yards in the second half. Four plays after OBJ went out, Stafford was intercepted in the end zone by Jessie Bates III on a pass intended for Van Jefferson. On the Rams' first snap of the second half, Stafford was picked again, but it wasn't his fault – backup receiver Ben Skowronek deflecting the ball to Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. But they rebounded late when it counted, mounting a 15-play, 79-yard drive in the fourth quarter that pulled the win out of the fire.
Cincinnati run defense
After surrendering an average of 127.3 rushing yards – and 5.9 per carry – in three playoff games, the Bengals run stuffers rebounded in a big way. They rendered the Rams almost totally one-dimensional, surrendering just 43 yards and 1.9 per rush. LA's Cam Akers had a team-high 21 yards on 13 carries.
Jalen Ramsey's bad day
Widely regarded as the NFL's premier cornerback, the three-time All-Pro had a rough go. Ramsey gave up a 46-yard completion to budding Bengals superstar Ja'Marr Chase to the Rams' 11-yard line in the first quarter – a sequence that set up Cincinnati's first points, a 29-yard McPherson FG. It got worse on the opening snap of the second half, Ramsey in coverage on Higgins' go-ahead 75-yard TD. Higgins briefly hooked Ramsey's facemask and knocked him off balance and to the ground on the play but ... no flag, Ramsey left disbelieving in the wideout's wake. Ramsey also gambled and lost on Cincinnati's final drive, allowing a 17-yard completion to Chase while going for the ball, though that risk didn't prove fatal ... if just barely.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.