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Somehow, the Los Angeles Rams spent Sunday evening at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California exchanging hugs with the Lombardi Trophy.
They hadn’t a choice.
With the Cincinnati Bengals maybe five minutes away from surging to an improbable world championship after a combined six victories during their previous two seasons, the Rams did what they had to do.
Well . . . barely, but “barely” counts as much as “blowouts” when it comes to Super Bowl victories. As a result, the Rams couldn’t care less they needed to survive Joe Burrow and themselves by surging down the stretch for a 23-20 victory over the Bengals in the 56th version of these things.
The Rams produced several heroes in the clutch.
“Yeah, those guys just did a great job. They just took over that game,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said later with his eternally hoarse voice, referring to the duo that engineered the Rams’ clinching touchdown drive of 79 yards.
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Actually, it was a trio.
There was a lot of quarterback Matthew Stafford. There was much of wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the eventual Super Bowl most valuable player.
Then there was McVay using that time — stretching from when he went for it on fourth-and-one from his 30-yard line to Stafford finding Kupp for a second and clinching touchdown inside of the final 85 seconds — delivering enough X’s and O’s to show he really is a play-calling guru.
Neither Stafford nor McVay could do anything less.
Kupp, not so much.
Did I mention the Rams had to win, period?
- They became just the second team ever to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium, and some guy named Tom Brady established last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that whenever you’re in that situation, you’re obligated to win.
- The Rams put together the $5.5 billion plan to build the world’s most lavish sporting venue that is SoFi Stadium. When it opened before last season, the hometown team was expected, not only to host Super Bowls, but to capture them.
- Since the Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis before the 2016 NFL season, they’ve been far from the people’s choice. They rank fourth on the Forbes’ list of NFL team evaluations at $4.8 billion. Even so, if you go by the Super Bowl featuring another 50-50 crowd at a Rams home game (there was a steady dose “Who Dey?” chants for the Bengals throughout this one), the Rams have to win multiple world titles like the Lakers and the Dodgers to become LA relevant.
- Did you see that Super Bowl halftime show for the ages? Led by Long Beach’s own Snoop Dogg, most of the hip-hop icons on stage were as southern California as it gets. So the Rams knew exactly what they had to do when they watched their 13-10 lead at intermission become a 20-13 deficit within the opening five minutes of the third quarter. First, Burrow delivered a 75-yard touchdown bomb to Tee Higgins on the first play, and after Stafford followed with the second of his two interceptions, the Bengals booted a field goal.
- The Rams also were around 4-point favorites over the Bengals.
That said, this was moslty about Stafford and McVay.
Even though Stafford spent his first 12 NFL seasons in Detroit, he was considered a Pro Football Hall of Famer stuck with a pitiful franchise. He never won a playoff game with the Lions, but the Rams swapped previous starter Jared Goff for Stafford before this season, and they expected Stafford to do nothing less than what he did.
Otherwise, Stafford becomes maybe Dan Marino, a splendid quarterback who was a loser in his only Super Bowl trip.
McVay is just a couple of weeks past is 36th birthday, but this was his second Super Bowl as Rams head coach. He hinted he choked three years ago during his first one when he tried too hard to outsmart Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots along the way to a 13-3 loss.
This time, McVay watched Odell Beckham Jr., leave the game for good with a knee injury in the second quarter after the veteran wide receiver threatened to challenge for Super Bowl MVP honors (three targets, two catches, including one for a touhdown). McVay also had zero running game (43 yards rushing) to complement Stafford’s throwing, but he schemed his way past those issues.
McVay even called a running play for Kupp on that fourth-and-one gamble near the end of the game. After Kupp got the first down with six more yards to spare, the “Los Angeles” Rams were headed toward their first Super Bowl victory.
Which only made sense.