Super Bowl LVI: Loaded Rams outduel resilient Joe Burrow, Bengals 23-20
Bears QB Justin Fields attended the game, and he can see where the bar has been set. The Bears are looking for him to ascend like Burrow, and then it’s on them to build everything else around him in a way comparable to what the Rams laid out for Matthew Stafford.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — When a team is as loaded as the Rams are, there’s substantial margin for misfortune. Their wealth of talent put them beyond the pressure of needing everything to go right to beat the Bengals on Sunday in the Super Bowl.
So even with quarterback Matthew Stafford looking like the Lions version of himself for most of the game, star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. exiting early with a knee injury and the running game dissolving, the Rams had enough to win 23-20 at SoFi Stadium for their first championship since moving back to the Los Angeles area.
It was neither dominant nor beautiful, and they needed a late rally capped by Stafford’s one-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp with 1:25 left to win it. But it validated every correct choice the franchise has made since hiring coach Sean McVay in 2017.
Three years ago, after both teams lost in the playoffs, the Bears thought they and the Rams were at the start of an enduring rivalry in which they regularly would be battling for a spot in the Super Bowl. But while the Bears veered into various missteps at critical spots (quarterback, head coach, receiver and pass rush), the Rams checked every one of those boxes.
That’s why they’re here, waving around the Lombardi Trophy that has eluded the Bears for almost four decades. A string of great moves added up to this.
‘‘It’s a lot of good decisions stacked on one another, but I also think it’s a lot of mentally tough, special people finding a way to be at their best in those critical moments,’’ McVay said. ‘‘In a lot of instances, we have been the better team going into games, [but] how you play dictates whether you win. I’m just really pleased to be associated with a group that is not afraid to shoot their shot.’’
The Rams have stood among the NFL’s heavyweights since the season opener, when they pummeled the Bears 34-14 in a demolition so thorough that the lopsided final score didn’t do it justice.
While the Rams provided an enviable blueprint for the rest of the league, there’s also something to be gleaned from quarterback Joe Burrow and the upstart Bengals.
If Burrow can make it work under the circumstances he faced Sunday, there’s no question his name will be in the conversation for most dangerous quarterback in the NFL going forward.
As the Bengals’ struggling offensive line went up against Aaron Donald and the Rams’ ferocious pass rush, Burrow was under duress all game. The Rams pressured Burrow on 43% of his drop-backs, which was more than double the heat Stafford felt. Stafford had an average of 2.9 seconds to throw to 2.4 for Burrow. The Rams sacked Burrow seven times.
Burrow, as he has for most of the season, navigated the constant flood in the pocket well enough to keep the Bengals in reach to the end. He finished 22-for-32 for 263 yards and a touchdown pass for a 100.9 rating.
Stafford, with the advantage of a mostly clear pocket, went 26-for-40 for 283 yards with three touchdown passes and two interceptions for an 89.9 rating. Kupp caught eight passes for 92 yards and two of those touchdowns to claim Super Bowl MVP.
While it’s difficult to discern whether this is truly the start of something big for a Bengals team that went 10-7, lost to the Bears during the regular season and has a middling defense, it certainly is the first chapter of Burrow’s rise.
‘‘It’s gonna propel us into next year,’’ Burrow said. ‘‘We’re not satisfied with what we did this year. We’re gonna keep getting better and attack next year with the same intensity.’’
He’ll be a problem for the rest of the NFL for a long time, provided the Bengals keep him upright.
One of those seven sacks forced his right knee — the one in which he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last season — in the wrong direction with 11:38 left. It was a scary moment as he hopped off the field on one foot, but Burrow waved off trainers and went about the business of prepping for the next possession.
‘‘We can get it checked out when we get back to Cincinnati,’’ he said. ‘‘I wasn’t coming out.’’
Burrow stayed in the game but clearly didn’t have full mobility. He still was jogging around off to the side of the Bengals’ huddle before his first play back, trying to gauge how strong his knee was. Without the ability to dodge trouble at least a little, he’d be in for trouble against the Rams.
Burrow gutted it out and conceded only after being forced to fling an incomplete pass as Donald wrapped him up on fourth-and-one from the Rams’ 49-yard line with 39 seconds left.
The Bears hope they’ve found not only that talent but that toughness in quarterback Justin Fields. Fields flew into Los Angeles on Saturday to attend the game, so he got an up-close look at what he’ll be chasing.
The Bears need him to ascend like Burrow, and then it’s on them to build everything else around him in a way comparable to what the Rams laid out for Stafford.