The Los Angeles Rams rallied late to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 yesterday to deliver a Hollywood ending to the Super Bowl, securing the franchise's first championship since returning to the West Coast six years ago.
With his back against the wall, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford kept his poise to engineer a 15-play drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown pass to Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp with 1:25 left to play.
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald wrapped up Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on the final play to seal the win under the lights of the team's home field.
"I'm just so happy," an emotional Donald said after the game.
"I wanted this so bad. I dreamed this, man. I feel amazing. It's surreal, look at this," he said as confetti rained down on the veteran lineman and his teammates.
The Rams were forced to dig deep after they lost star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury in the second quarter and fell behind 20-13 in the third.
The ability to overcome setbacks is what makes the team special, head coach Sean McVay told reporters.
"I can't say enough about the resilience of this team," McVay said.
"Guys stepped up when they had to. That's what makes this team great. That's why they are world champs."
With the victory, the Rams joined last year's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the only teams to win a Super Bowl on their home field.
The franchise's only other Super Bowl championship came 22 years ago when they were based in St. Louis. The win also helps ease the pain of finishing runner-up to New England three years ago.
The Rams drew first blood on Sunday when Beckham made a leaping grab in the end zone for a 7-0 lead to ignite the blue-and-gold clad Rams fans on a hot day in Inglewood.
The Rams added to their lead when Stafford found Kupp in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter, but a bad hold by Johnny Hekker denied the team the extra point as the Rams took a 13-3 advantage.
The Bengals responded with a 75-yard drive capped when running back Joe Mixon threw a touchdown pass to Tee Higgins over the fooled Rams secondary to cut the deficit to 13-10, a score that held until halftime.
BENGALS BOUNCE BACK
The second half could not have started any better for the Bengals as Burrow uncorked a 75-yard touchdown strike to Higgins on the first offensive play after the break.
Higgins appeared to pull Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey down by the face mask before making the catch but no flag was thrown and the Bengals took their first lead of the game, 17-13.
Moments later, Stafford's pass bounced off the hands of receiver Ben Skowronek and ended up in the arms of Chidobe Awuzie for an interception that led to a Bengals field goal and a 20-13 lead.
A Matt Gay field goal cut the Cincinnati advantage to four points and the high-powered Rams defense finally began to put pressure on Burrow, sacking him for a seventh time in a play that saw the young quarterback come up hobbled and holding his right knee.
Burrow remained in the game but was unable to outduel Stafford down the stretch.
"It hurts," Burrow told reporters.
"We put a lot of work into going out and executing and performing well, and it didn't turn out the way we wanted, so it's disappointing."
The action played out in front of a full house of more than 70,000 fans. Last year's Super Bowl in Tampa was limited to 25,000 spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The game also marked the coming out party for the new $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium, which is set to host major sporting events including World Cup matches in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028.
The temperature at kickoff was 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius), two degrees short of the record for a Super Bowl. Inside the unique stadium, which has no walls or air conditioning but does have a semi-translucent roof, it was toasty but pleasant.
Next year's Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.