The 'formula' was actually quite simple. Now, the Rams are Super Bowl champs.
With the game on the line, Sean McVay stopping overthinking football and his stars delivered. That's the story of the Super Bowl LVI champions.
Every team that wins the Super Bowl is bound to tiptoe around a few landmines on its way to that championship podium.
The path for these Los Angeles Rams was particularly hazardous, too.
They were nearly vanquished by Tom Brady in the divisional round, benefiting from a bizarre defensive call on the game-winning drive. One week later, San Francisco’s Jaquiski Tartt dropped what was essentially a punt of an interception from Matthew Stafford. Then, in the Super Bowl, the officials decided to completely change the way they were calling this game with the game itself on the line.
Yet, all of these details will be forgotten. That’s how this works.
Instead, the narrative all offseason will be that these Rams established some sort of new “blueprint” to winning a title, a narrative sure to wallop us all over the head like a 2x4 for seven months. No doubt, the Rams were bold. They traded away a historic amount of draft capital — four first-round picks, a second, two thirds, a fourth and Jared Goff — for Stafford, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller, thus rendering their entire college scouting department glorified interns for the time being. The quarterback swap paid off and the fact that the Rams are set to go seven consecutive years without a first-round pick doesn’t mean a thing with that ring. Stafford helped unlock the all-world talent inside Cooper Kupp.
But the Rams’ 23-20 Super Bowl LVI win over the Cincinnati Bengals should really be remembered for something else.
The emphasis on scheme has never been higher in this sport with teams on an unrelenting search for the next innovative mind. That’s why we see so many comebacks these days, too. A three-touchdown lead can disappear with a handful of schematic tweaks at halftime. For good reason, owners want the next McVay, the next Kyle Shanahan. They’re incredibly bright. So bright, in fact, that they can out-think themselves on the sports world’s grandest stage. That sure seemed to be the case for most of this Super Bowl. McVay thought he saw… something… in Cincy’s defensive front and kept banging away with a run game that went nowhere.
The Rams’ running backs gained all of 30 yards on 19 carries.
Meanwhile, the offensive player of the year had all of six targets deep into the fourth quarter.
After a third-and-9 drop by Tyler Boyd — his first drop of the season — Los Angeles took over at its own 21-yard line with 6:13 remaining and decided, finally, to quit screwing around. They put the ball in their best player’s hands, Kupp, regardless of whatever Cincy was trying to do to stop him. Immediately after the win, on top of a confetti-draped field, Stafford basically said as much.
“We spend a lot of time together,” Stafford said. “We talk ball a lot. He’s an unbelievable player. I’m lucky to play with him. That was fun on that last drive to get back to feeding him. They were doing a great job the whole game doubling him in a bunch of instances. I got in my head, ‘I’m going to go to my guy here. I don’t care what they play.’ I just tried to get the ball to him, and he made unbelievable plays.”
On fourth and 1, from his own 30, Kupp took a jet sweep seven yards. There was nothing fancy about it. Simply, his speed was too much for safety Vonn Bell. And between a pair of eight-yard receptions, Stafford found Kupp for 22 yards on his finest throw of the night. It was as if he channeled the Stafford of old who didn’t care what defenses were doing to stop Calvin Johnson. Bell was positioned to completely eliminate a passing window, but so what? Stafford looked left to freeze Bell a split-second and then fluttered a beauty right over his fingertips.
The backfield camera angle of the throw linked below shows exactly why the Rams gave up everything for Stafford.
And at the 1-yard line, there was no need to run the ball anymore. Stafford lobbed the game-winner to Kupp in single coverage. Cornerback Eli Apple was quite jacked for this Super Bowl but wasn’t a match on this island. Few are.
When the Bengals had their chance to tie, the Rams’ other star delivered. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is an inevitable force. In one of his “McGinn Files” features, our Bob McGinn spoke to coaches all about how this three-time defensive player of the year always finds a way to make the game-changing play. He can go stretches without a pressure before, bam, crushing your dreams. This night, the Bengals’ offensive line actually held up pretty well by sending extra bodies at Donald.
Then came his two opportunities to win the Super Bowl.
On third and 1, Donald wrestled running back Samaje Perine to the turf. (Quick thoughts: Where’s Joe Mixon? He was averaging 4.8 yards per carry. And why does it seem, as former NFL guard T.J. Lang noted, that Perine isn’t running that hard given the situation?)
On fourth and 1, Donald wasted guard Quinton Spain, got to Burrow and spun the quarterback around for a wild incompletion. (One more thought: Could Perine dive for this? Again, it’s the Super Bowl.)
Donald pointed to his finger, yelled “Ring me! Ring me!” and solidified himself as an all-time great.
Longtime coach Wade Phillips might’ve backtracked a bit on comparing Donald to Reggie White. He had them both as a coordinator, thus is the most qualified to compare the two. While White is the greatest defensive player ever in my book, I think it’s at least safe to use these names in the same sentence. Donald is up to 98 sacks and 226 quarterback hits in eight seasons as an interior player. That’s nuts. Like White, the timing of Donald’s destruction is on a different level. When everyone else wears down, he feasts. His energy late in games is unmatched — Donald played 1,041 snaps in the regular season, too.
Let’s hope he doesn’t retire. Donald has no equal.
Of course, the officials couldn’t help themselves. One storyline from 2021 that the league would like us all to forget was the grotesque officiating. Too often, crews inserted themselves into the action this season. For 58 minutes, it seemed like this group was doing the exact opposite. They let the Rams and Bengals play and that also helped the overall flow of the game. Then, on the Rams’ game-winning drive, they flagged Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson for an extremely questionable hold. Letting this go would’ve set up a fourth-and-goal from the eight-yard line.
The inconsistency is maddening. Cincinnati has every right to be pissed today.
Still, the Rams won because of Kupp and Donald and not making football more complicated than it should be. If a collection of star players become available this offseason, sure, another title-starved contender may start throwing draft picks around but this “formula” feels more like a rarity. We’re not seeing the dawn of a superteam era because this isn’t the NBA where five players on a court decide the outcome. Rather, two homegrown players were absolutely indomitable with everything on the line.
One was quite boisterous afterward. Donald’s tears flowed.
The other was more of a silent assassin to the end. From the podium, after his 178 receptions for 2,425 yards and 22 touchdowns culminated with a Super Bowl title, Kupp stared ahead and soaked it all in.
Getting the ball to the best player on the field sure paid off.