The Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams both rallied from double-digit deficits Sunday to set up an unlikely Super Bowl LVI showdown in LA on February 13. 

Two years ago, the Bengals were the NFL’s worst team, earning them the top pick in the NFL Draft, which they used to take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Now Burrow and the Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl to play the Rams – in the Rams’ home stadium. 

Matching the biggest comeback in an AFC championship game, the Bengals rallied from an 18-point hole in Kansas City to stun the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime for their first trip to the big game since the 1988 season. 

Seeking a record third straight trip to the Super Bowl, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped the Chiefs race out to a 21-3 lead by the second quarter, but the Bengals narrowed the gap to 21-10 before halftime, and the Cincinnati defense clamped down in the second half.  

Ultimately, Bengals rookie Evan McPherson connected on a 31-yard field goal in overtime – his second game-winning kick in as many weeks.  

In Los Angeles, where A-Listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Jessica Alba were among the celebrities in attendance at SoFi Stadium, Brandy kicked off the NFC title game with a stirring performance of the national anthem. The 42-year-old singer wore a white jumpsuit, which many presumed to be a nod to the outfit Whitney Houston wore to perform The Star-Spangled Banner before Super Bowl XXV in 1991. 

From there, the Rams overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to take NFC title with a 20-17 victory over San Francisco, thanks to kicker Matt Gay’s game-winning field goal with 1:46 remaining.   

Los Angeles is an early 3 1/2-point Super Bowl favorite, according to FanDuel.  

Bengals QB Joe Burrow (left) and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin were all smiles after the win

Bengals QB Joe Burrow (left) and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin were all smiles after the win

Bengals QB Joe Burrow (left) and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin were all smiles after the win

Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald, left, and Matthew Stafford celebrate after the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The Rams won 20-17 to advance to the Super Bowl

Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald, left, and Matthew Stafford celebrate after the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The Rams won 20-17 to advance to the Super Bowl

Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald, left, and Matthew Stafford celebrate after the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The Rams won 20-17 to advance to the Super Bowl

Actress Jessica Alba looks on during the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Inglewood

Actress Jessica Alba looks on during the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Inglewood

Actress Jessica Alba looks on during the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Inglewood 

Singer Brandy performs the national anthem before the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium

Singer Brandy performs the national anthem before the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium

Looks familiar! Brandy's look bore a strong resemblance to the outfit Whitney Houston wore while performing the national anthem at the New York Giants v Buffalo Bills game in 1991.; Houston pictured R

Looks familiar! Brandy's look bore a strong resemblance to the outfit Whitney Houston wore while performing the national anthem at the New York Giants v Buffalo Bills game in 1991.; Houston pictured R

Brandy wore white to sing national anthem before the NFC title game, which many presumed to be a nod to Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl XXV outfit (right)  

Rams owner Stan Kroenke, middle, holds up the George Halas trophy Sunday

Rams owner Stan Kroenke, middle, holds up the George Halas trophy Sunday

Rams owner Stan Kroenke, middle, holds up the George Halas trophy Sunday 

Linebacker Von Miller, who joined the Rams in a blockbuster trade with Broncos,  hoists trophy

Linebacker Von Miller, who joined the Rams in a blockbuster trade with Broncos,  hoists trophy

Linebacker Von Miller, who joined the Rams in a blockbuster trade with Broncos,  hoists trophy

Los Angeles (15-5) had lost six consecutive times to the 49ers (12-8), but the visitors couldn’t slow All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp. Safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped a certain interception in the fourth quarter that helped LA tie the game. 

Kupp finished with 11 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. 

In a brutally physical game also highlighted by some clutch plays from Kupp and fellow All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel of the 49ers, LA quarterback Matthew Stafford went 31 for 45 for 337 yards passing to get to his first Super Bowl. 

The Rams got there in the 2018 season, but lost to New England. 

The franchise has been to four previous Super Bowls, going 1-3; the only victory came in the 1999 season while they were based in St. Louis.

‘I’m blessed to be part of this team, with this group of guys, this coaching staff,’ said Stafford, who was traded to the Rams this season after spending his first dozen seasons in Detroit. ‘You can’t write the story any better. I’m at a loss for words. I’m just having a blast playing ball with these guys.’ 

Jessica Alba and Leonardo DiCaprio lead the A-listers watching NFC championship game in Los Angeles

Jessica Alba and Leonardo DiCaprio were among the A-listers watching the Los Angeles Rams take on the  San Francisco 49ers at Sunday’s star-studded NFC championship game.

Alba, 40, looked chic in a white turtleneck and plaid jacket as she watched her team win and move on to Super Bowl LVI. Meanwhile Wilson, 41, rocked a blue Rams hat and matching t-shirt. 

Also in attendance at the game were Rebel Wilson , Rob Lowe, Cedric The Entertainer, Magic Johnson, and James Corden.  

Concentrated: Alba's honey gold locks were cut into a bob and styled to the side

Concentrated: Alba's honey gold locks were cut into a bob and styled to the side

Concentrated: Alba’s honey gold locks were cut into a bob and styled to the side

Los Angeles native: Also in attendance was LA native Leonardo DiCaprio, who was spotted chatting with a male friend

Los Angeles native: Also in attendance was LA native Leonardo DiCaprio, who was spotted chatting with a male friend

Los Angeles native: Also in attendance was LA native Leonardo DiCaprio, who was spotted chatting with a male friend

Beauty: The Australian actress looked fresh-faced and sported a touch of lipgloss on her pout

Beauty: The Australian actress looked fresh-faced and sported a touch of lipgloss on her pout

Beauty: The Australian actress looked fresh-faced and sported a touch of lipgloss on her pout

Alba accessorized her game look with a silver and gold chain around her neck.

Her honey gold locks were cut into a bob and styled to the side. She also spruced up her outfit with a pair of large gold hoop earrings.

The actress and businesswoman shared a game selfie with her 19.4M Instagram followers, where she is seen flashing a large smile while sitting next to her parents.

She captioned the photo writing, ‘#ramshouse #letsgo @rams w mom & dad @cathyalba @markdalba.’

Meanwhile DiCaprio, a Los Angeles native, was spotted chatting with a male friend during the game.

The 47-year-old actor sported a relaxed look for the event, rocking a baseball hat and a dark jacket on top of a grey t-shirt.

The Titanic star kept safe with a blue face mask to protect him from COVID-19.

Also spotted in the audience was 57-year-old actor, Rob Lowe who looked casual cool in an LA hat and dark long-sleeve top 

Cedric The Entertainer, 57, was spotted with a drink in his hand as he donned a stylish fedora and a Rams t-shirt along with a zip-up hoodie.

Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, 62, was also seen at the star-studded game, wearing a black long-sleeve top.   

Happy: Former professional basketball player Magic Johnson flashed a smile as he reached out to shake someone's hand

Happy: Former professional basketball player Magic Johnson flashed a smile as he reached out to shake someone's hand

Happy: Former professional basketball player Magic Johnson flashed a smile as he reached out to shake someone’s hand

Sporty casual: Rob Lowe looked casual cool in an LA hat and dark long-sleeve top

Sporty casual: Rob Lowe looked casual cool in an LA hat and dark long-sleeve top

Sporty casual: Rob Lowe looked casual cool in an LA hat and dark long-sleeve top

Cool: Cedric The Entertainer was spotted with a drink in his hand as he donned a stylish fedora and a Rams t-shirt along with a zip-up hoodie

Cool: Cedric The Entertainer was spotted with a drink in his hand as he donned a stylish fedora and a Rams t-shirt along with a zip-up hoodie

Cool: Cedric The Entertainer was spotted with a drink in his hand as he donned a stylish fedora and a Rams t-shirt along with a zip-up hoodie

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The underdog Bengals erased a 21-3 deficit to silence the home fans at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium when McPherson booted a 31-yard field goal with 9:22 minutes left in the first extra period. 

It was a stunning defeat for the Chiefs, who oddsmakers had pegged as the favorites to take home the Super Bowl LVI trophy. 

Mahomes and the rest of the team were left to lament blowing a chance at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

During the nail-biter of a game, the Bengals erased an 18-point deficit – tying an AFC title game record – to take a late 24-21 lead. 

But Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 44-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, sending the game to overtime. A week earlier, Butker’s 49-yard kick on the final play of regulation did the same against Buffalo.

Bengals kicker Evan McPherson boots a 31-yard field goal in overtime to send Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 33 years

Bengals kicker Evan McPherson boots a 31-yard field goal in overtime to send Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 33 years

Bengals kicker Evan McPherson boots a 31-yard field goal in overtime to send Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 33 years

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates with fans after the AFC championship

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates with fans after the AFC championship

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates with fans after the AFC championship

However, Mahomes’ magic came to an end in overtime as he was picked off on the Chiefs’ first possession and Burrow drove the Bengals for the easy chip shot.

Now, Cincinnati is heading to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989, when it lost a thriller to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. 

The team also lost to the Niners in the Super Bowl in 1982. 

McPherson said during a post-game press conference that the week leading to the game has been ‘surreal’ as the team pushed the underdog narrative to the side.

‘The Bengals are here to say,’ he said. 

Despite going into the second half trailing 21-10, he said he was confident the team would catch up. 

‘We all thought we were going to come back and find a way to win,’ McPherson said. ‘I think a lot of people wrote us off at half time, but we’re a confident group of guys and we knew there was no way we were going to go out like this.’ 

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor holds up Lamar Hunt Trophy for winning AFC title

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor holds up Lamar Hunt Trophy for winning AFC title

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor holds up Lamar Hunt Trophy for winning AFC title

Burrow, 25, said the team worked extraordinarily hard to make it to the Super Bowl after suffering an off season last year.

‘I think if you would have told me before the season we’d be going to the Super Bowl I would have called you crazy,’ he said. But nothing surprises me now. Playing this whole year, I knew we would have a chance to be here.

‘It’s a very exciting moment.’

Bengals wide receive Ja’Marr Chase said he’s thrilled to have a shot at the Super Bowl. He and Burrow previously won an NCAA title together at LSU. 

‘The more I hear, the more I get more excited. We’ve got an opportunity in front of us, we’ve got a great team. Everyone is excited for the opportunity in front of us.’    

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left)  fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (center) during the second half

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left)  fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (center) during the second half

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left)  fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (center) during the second half

Burrow and Stafford had almost nothing in common before Sunday except that they were top overall picks in the NFL draft.

Now, they are both Super Bowl quarterbacks.

Their journeys are almost polar opposites since each left an SEC powerhouse.

Stafford was the first selection in the 2009 draft out of Georgia and then spent a dozen years trying not to get pummeled in Detroit. Always considered a good player on a bad team – Detroit is that rare franchise that existed when the Super Bowl was created but never has been to it – Stafford was rescued by the Rams last year. In his first season as their QB, he’s helped them to the big game, his connection with unanimous All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp something very special. And seemingly unstoppable.

Matthew Stafford #9 and Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrate after an 11 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers

Matthew Stafford #9 and Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrate after an 11 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers

Matthew Stafford #9 and Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrate after an 11 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers

‘Couldn’t be more grateful for Matthew Stafford,’ coach Sean McVay said after Stafford went 31 of 45 for 337 yards with two TD passes in the 20-17 victory over San Francisco for the NFC title.

To say Stafford is a vast improvement over Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall choice in 2016, is too obvious. Stafford has a better arm, better technique, a better handle for pressure – statistically, he’s the top NFL passer against blitzes – and, simply, better command of the most important position on the field. Yes, Goff got to the Super Bowl with the Rams in 2018, when they lost to New England with a wretched offensive performance. But Stafford in a lot of ways took the Rams to the big game rather than being along for the ride.

‘You can’t write the story any better,’ Stafford said. ‘I’m at a loss for words. I’m just having a blast playing ball with these guys and, shoot, we’ve got one more at the home stadium. Let’s get it done.’

The Rams (15-5) have blasted right into the Super Bowl in two weeks, when for the second straight year after it never occurred in the 54 previous editions, they will host it in their stadium. Tampa Bay turned that trick last season.

Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams speaks to Terry Bradshaw while holding the George Halas Trophy as Cooper Kupp #10 looks on after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game

Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams speaks to Terry Bradshaw while holding the George Halas Trophy as Cooper Kupp #10 looks on after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game

Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams speaks to Terry Bradshaw while holding the George Halas Trophy as Cooper Kupp #10 looks on after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game

Burrow outruns Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones to pick up a first down in the second half

Burrow outruns Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones to pick up a first down in the second half

Burrow outruns Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones to pick up a first down in the second half

With the weapons on offense (Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr., most notably) and stars on defense such as unanimous All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Von Miller, a 2015 NFL champion with Denver, Stafford is in excellent position to turn his first season in L.A. into a Lombardi Trophy celebration.

But he’ll have to get by Burrow, in his second pro season, and the Bengals (13-7).

Like Stafford, Burrow went to a struggling franchise. Oh, Cincinnati made the playoffs often enough in this century. It just bungled its way to seven consecutive postseason defeats under Marvin Lewis. When the Bengals went 2-14 in 2019 while Burrow was winning a national championship and setting records at LSU, it was an easy choice in the draft.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throws to Cincinnati wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throws to Cincinnati wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throws to Cincinnati wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs

Still, his knee injury after 10 games (2-7-1 as a starter) seemed so appropriate for the Bengals. Another potentially good thing gone wrong.

Except so much has gone right in the last month, and here Burrow is, guiding the team to its first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years.

The injured good thing has turned into a healthy sure thing, with the brightest of futures.

‘I wouldn’t call it surreal, I would say it’s exciting,’ Burrow said. ‘I think if you would have told me before the season that we’d be going to the Super Bowl, I probably would have called you crazy. Then, you know, we play the whole season and nothing surprises me now.’

It’s never surprising when a surpassing talent like a Burrow succeeds in the NFL. But it’s also not shocking when one like Stafford languishes in a bad situation.

Take a look at QBs who were first overall selections and you get Peyton and Eli Manning, but you also get David Carr and JaMarcus Russell. For every John Elway, there is a Sam Bradford. Going further back, there’s a Troy Aikman in 1989 and a Jeff George in 1990.

No matter what happens at SoFi Stadium on February 13, consider this: Only once before have two overall No. 1 drafted QBs met in a Super Bowl, six years ago when Peyton and the Broncos beat Cam Newton and the Panthers. Either the long journey of Stafford or the quicker trip for Burrow will end with hoisting the Lombardi Trophy – exactly what top draftees are supposed to accomplish.

College teammates-turned-Bengals teammates Joe Burrow (left) and Ka'Marr Chase (right)

College teammates-turned-Bengals teammates Joe Burrow (left) and Ka'Marr Chase (right)

College teammates-turned-Bengals teammates Joe Burrow (left) and Ka’Marr Chase (right)

Source: Daily Mail

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