Cooper Kupp was the best wide receiver in the NFL this season, and yet anyone watching the Super Bowl wouldn’t have known it before the Rams’ final drive. Through three-plus quarters, his most memorable play was a botched pass on a Philly Special attempt in the third quarter. Fortuitously, Los Angeles remembered the best weapon in its arsenal just in time to beat the Bengals.
The Rams took over with 6:13 left down four points, and that’s when Kupp got to work. His dominance started not with a catch, though, but with a run: After the woeful RB corps got stuffed again on third and 1 for no gain, Kupp took a jet sweep off the right tackle for seven yards to keep the drive alive.
Though a failure there wouldn’t have ended the game, with five minutes left, it would have put the Rams in brutal position, with Cincinnati in field goal range from the start of their ensuing drive. Instead, L.A. put the ball in its best offensive player’s hands and he delivered.
That would become a theme of the final drive, and not a second too soon. Though he had been targeted just six times in the game until that point, Kupp saw the ball thrown his way seven more times on that last possession. Someone must have reminded Matthew Stafford that, with Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined, Kupp was his only real weapon, and the receiver rewarded that realization with three clutch grabs that helped the Rams move into the red zone:
That set up a wild final two minutes inside the 10-yard-line. It was Kupp again: First, Stafford tried to hit him with a short pass down the middle, only for him to be (lightly) held by Logan Wilson. That moved the ball up to the four where Stafford once again looked to Kupp. This time, he caught the ball in the end zone before getting absolutely leveled by Von Bell. That play, though, was nullified by offsetting penalties, including Bell’s unnecessary roughness penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
The NFL’s Number One Enemy Eli Apple grabbed Kupp with the ball in the air on the next play, and that pass interference flag set the Rams up on the doorstep. A failed quarterback sneak later, and Stafford looked one last time to Kupp, who shook loose from Apple for the Super Bowl–winning touchdown:
So what exactly changed on this drive that allowed Kupp to avoid the double coverage he had been seeing since Beckham left the game? A big late-game adjustment, which Sean McVay has never been known for, partially born of desperation. “We went a little up-tempo on that last drive,” Kupp said, “which kept them in some zone calls, and that allowed Matthew and I to kind of find some soft spots in there.”
Though Aaron Donald will rightfully get a lot of credit for his game-saving stops on the ensuing Bengals possession, Kupp’s dominant final drive was what let the Rams shake their doldrums to take the lead. On the day, Kupp finished with eight catches, 92 yards, and two touchdowns, more than earning MVP honors as the only healthy Rams offensive player to have anything resembling a good game. Those numbers could have, should have been bigger. Kupp was able to get open time and time again, even after Beckham went down and safeties were able to shade his way, and yet the ball only sparingly came his direction until that final drive. The Rams’ insistence on attempting to establish the run for far longer than was reasonable left its high-flying offense neutered for most of the evening. It’s obvious that the Rams’ gameplan seemed to fall apart when Beckham went off injured, but when it mattered most, McVay was forced to dance with the one that brought him. They left it for late, but Kupp got the ball just in time.