Super Bowl LVI, which the Los Angeles Rams won by the score of 23–20 over the Cincinnati Bengals, was not the most engaging football game ever televised, not by a long shot. Both quarterbacks seemed significantly hobbled following painful sacks. The Bengals and Rams punted on seven consecutive drives in the second half, a stretch of 14 minutes of game-time that saw a grand total of three first-downs. The Rams lost a key weapon, Cincinnati’s shaky offensive line went in the toilet, and suddenly neither team could move the ball for shit.
The loss of Odell Beckham Jr., plus the utter lack of a competent running game, left Matthew Stafford to throw the ball down the stretch pretty much exclusively to Cooper Kupp, which to be fair is what he probably should’ve been doing anyway, for most of the game’s final three quarters. It was a late touchdown to Kupp following an infuriating series of goal-line penalties that put the Rams ahead and eventually established the winning margin:
The Bengals still had a pair of timeouts and 85 seconds of clock to work with; even after all that frustrating second-half futility, this was still plenty of time for Joe Burrow to author another chapter of his, uhh, race-transcending legend. A nice gain up the sideline to Ja’Marr Chase and then a quick strike to Tyler Boyd set the Bengals up with a second-and-one near midfield. Burrow took an errant shot up the right sideline, but the Bengals had a manageable third-and-one with 48 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in their pocket. Here is where Bengals head coach Zac Taylor may have big-brained himself into deep shit: The call on this all-important play was a draw to backup running back Semaje Perine, and headed almost directly at all-world defensive end Aaron Donald. Donald, despite being fully engaged at the line of scrimmage and with all other Rams lineman blown upfield, simply reached out with one hand and dragged Perine to the turf, short of the marker:
Then, on fourth-and-one, the Rams moved Donald over to rush Burrow’s blindside, and he pretty much single-handedly ended the game:
I was a little bit grumpy about having stayed up to watch this game Sunday night, as it looked more and more like what would wind up deciding it would be dreary old injury management stuff. Aaron Donald making a couple of cool plays at the end was very nice, but it wasn’t until I got a gander at that photo up there that I was able to fully appreciate that a transcendent player had very emphatically put his personal stamp on this contest. That is a photo of a 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback being ragdolled on the very most important play of his career, in the very last play of consequence of the most important game of the season. The man turning Joe Burrow into a human whip had just moments earlier dragged down a 250-pound running back with one hand, while using his other hand to hold off a 302-pound offensive tackle.
With their quarterback scuffling and no running game to speak of, with their All-Pro cornerback getting conspicuously dusted under conditions both fair and unfair, with their whole outfit looking decidedly un-Super Bowl-ish, the Rams cobbled together a drive and got their nose out in front. The Bengals had a chance, but they had no answer for one of the most physical and scariest football players in the world doing what he does best.