LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Cooper Kupp scored two touchdowns and Aaron Donald spearheaded a fearsome defensive display as the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 to win the Super Bowl yesterday.
Kupp scored a decisive touchdown with one minute and 25 seconds remaining to give the Rams the lead at SoFi Stadium before Donald grabbed the Rams’ record-equalling seventh sack of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to seal a blockbuster victory.
Donald’s sack of Burrow was the dramatic final act of a gripping contest between the star-studded Rams and the Bengals, whose bid to win a first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy fell agonisingly short.
“I’m just so happy,” said Rams defensive star Donald. “I wanted this so bad. I dreamed this.”
“One play and we’re world champs,” Donald added of his crucial late sack of Burrow. “Any way to get to him. We made it.”
Wide receiver Kupp was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player three years after missing the Rams’ prior appearance in a Super Bowl through injury.
“It is unbelievable,” Kupp said. “To be able to experience this with my family. It has been such a fun ride. Up and down but fun.”
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, meanwhile, paid tribute to his team’s never-say-die approach.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Stafford said. “There are so many guys on our team that deserve this, so many guys who gave their heart and soul to this team.
“That game today is the story of our season. It’s up and down, it’s tough. We’re a tough team. We showed up late and got it done.”
The Bengals had stormed into a 20-13 lead early in the second half after a controversial Tee Higgins touchdown and an Evan McPherson field goal. Higgins raced for a 75-yard score but replays showed he grabbed Rams’ safety Jalen Ramsey’s facemask before breaking clear – an infringement that should have led to a penalty.
But the Rams, who had struggled to build momentum on offense after a game-ending injury to Odell Beckham Jr in the first half, clawed their way back into the game thanks to their rampant defense led by Donald.
Burrow was sacked repeatedly at key moments to prevent the Bengals from extending their lead.
Matt Gay’s field goal pulled the Rams back to 20-16 heading into the fourth quarter.
Stafford then led a 15-play, 79-yard drive that benefitted from three crucial Bengals penalties near the goal line before Kupp plucked a one-yard pass in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
“Stafford and Kupp came to life,” said Rams head coach Sean McVay – who becomes the youngest ever head coach to win the Super Bowl at the age of 36. “Our best players shined the brightest when they had to and that’s why we got it done.”
Kupp and Beckham had both scored early touchdowns to give the Rams a 13-3 lead in the second quarter before the Bengals battled back into the contest.
The defeat was brutal on Bengals quarterback Burrow, the 25-year-old rising star who has helped transform Cincinnati’s fortunes this season. Burrow finished with 263 passing yards and one touchdown but was buffeted all night and sacked seven times, equalling the record for the most sacks in a Super Bowl.
“It stings, but we had a great year,” Burrow said. “I was disappointed in my performance. I thought I could have given us a chance to win. You live and learn.”
Bengals coach Taylor admitted having victory prised from his team’s grasp had been hard to take.
“It’s tough,” Taylor said. “To fight and get this far and not finish it off.
“Really proud of the way our team played. They gave us tremendous effort and put us in a position to win. We just needed one more stop, one more score there at the end to be champions.”
Stafford, meanwhile, finished with 283 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.