On February 13, 2022, the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals met in SoFi Stadium, the Rams’ home stadium in Inglewood California, for Super Bowl LVI.
As a franchise, this was the Rams’ 5th Super Bowl appearance; they had lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII and had only won it once, in 2000. The Bengals were in their third Super Bowl and first since the 1980s. In fact, they had not won a playoff game for over 30 years.
To get to the Super Bowl, the fourth-seeded Rams soundly defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round, blew a 27-3 lead but won against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round (in Tom Brady’s final NFL game), and came back to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game 27-24. Led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receivers Cooper Kupp & Odell Beckham Jr. on offense, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, linebacker Von Miller, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey on defense, the Rams had gone all in to win Super Bowl LVI, and the move seemed to be working. They had traded Jared Goff for former Detroit Lion, Stafford, who had spent his entire NFL career often being subjectively held back by his teams. The Rams acquired Miller and Beckham mid-season and had a strong defense.
The fourth-seeded Bengals, on the other hand, had held off a late charge by the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card round, defeated the top-seeded Tennessee Titans on a last-second field goal in the Divisional Round, and came back from 21-3 down to upset the Kansas City Chiefs on an overtime field goal in the AFC Championship Game. The Bengals had played poorly for the past few seasons, their luck working last year, when their number one overall pick, quarterback Joe Burrow, had suffered a season-ending injury. However, led by Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (who went to LSU with Burrow) on offense, and safety Jessie Bates III and an improved defense, they finally won a playoff game and continued their streak long enough to earn themselves a ticket to the Super Bowl. Bengals coach Zac Taylor had previously coached under Rams coach Sean McVay, and the duo made history as the youngest Super Bowl coaching matchup.
Both of these teams had gone through adversity to make it to the Super Bowl, but utilized their grit and resilience to the extent required to earn their tickets. Los Angeles opened the scoring with a Stafford touchdown pass to Beckham and Cincinnati scored a field goal despite running three plays in the red zone. The teams then traded touchdowns, with Stafford throwing one to Kupp (although the kicker missed the extra point) and Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins catching one from running back Joe Mixon. During the Rams’ next drive, Beckham was unfortunately injured and forced to leave the game, and Stafford was intercepted by Bates in the end zone. Going into halftime, the score was 13-10 in favor of the Rams.
The Super Bowl LVI halftime show featured a star-studded lineup of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar, with appearances from 50 Cent and Anderson .Paak. Their performance including a mix of tunes from each artist, with collaborations with one another on most flashy pieces, receiving generally positive reviews.
After halftime, the Bengals got out to a quick start, with Burrow throwing a 75-yard touchdown to Higgins, although the referees may have missed a penalty on Higgins on the play. Stafford threw an interception on the next play, but a third-down sack by Donald held the Bengals to a field goal. The Rams responded with a field goal of their own, making the score 20-16 in favor of Cincinnati.
Both teams then exchanged punts for the next seven drives, including a stretch of five three-and-outs in six drives. The Rams and Bengals each had strong defenses, and it showed during this game. The Bengals held the Rams to less than two yards per rush throughout the game, and against a weak Cincinnati offensive line, the Rams sacked Burrow seven times, a Super Bowl record, with Donald and Miller getting two sacks apiece.
The Rams then got the ball at their own 21 with about six minutes remaining. On the ensuing drive, they converted a fourth down and third down to drive down the field, with Stafford connecting with Kupp often. When the two minute warning hit, they were on the Cincinnati eight yard line. On 3rd and goal from the eight, Stafford threw an incomplete pass intended for Kupp, but a (somewhat questionable) penalty was called on the Bengals. Throughout the game, the referees had thrown very few flags, unlike the rest of the season; however, as with the rest of the season, they had made some questionable calls on the second Higgins touchdown and this third-and-goal. After offsetting penalties negated a Rams touchdown and Cincinnati was penalized again, Stafford eventually threw a one yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp, putting the Rams ahead 23-20. Stafford finished the game with 283 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and two interceptions, while Kupp had caught eight receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
However, Cincinnati had one last chance to tie or win the game. Starting from his own 25, Burrow made it to third-and-one from the Rams 49, but Bengals running back Samaje Perine was stopped by Donald on the play. On fourth-and-one, with the game on the line, Donald pressured Burrow once again, forcing him to throw a wild pass which ended up just out of Perine’s reach.
This play sealed the Super Bowl victory for the Rams, acquiring their second win in franchise history. They had won in front of their home crowd, with Cooper Kupp winning Super Bowl MVP to cap off his incredible performance throughout the year. Despite losing in the end, the Bengals had already surpassed expectations in what had been a crazy 2021-22 NFL season. Both teams, along with the rest of the NFL, are already looking for ways to come back stronger for Super Bowl LVII, just an ephemeral year away.