The Rams finished their all-in, boom-or-bust season with a perfect ending in Super Bowl LVI.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for three touchdowns and led another game-winning drive.
Lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Von Miller led a defense that sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow seven times.
Receiver Cooper Kupp caught two touchdown passes and was voted most valuable player after starring in the 23-20 victory on Sunday before 70,048 at SoFi Stadium.
“I can’t say enough about the resilience of this team,” coach Sean McVay said. “Guys stepping up when they had to … That’s why we’re world champs, because our best players stepped up in the most crucial and critical moments.”
Before a glitzy crowd heavy on Hollywood, music and sports celebrities, the Rams overcame a 20-13, third-quarter deficit to complete their dream season
Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, Kanye West, Cardi B, LeBron James and Clayton Kershaw were among the glitterati that looked on as the Rams struggled for much of the game to match the electricity that Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent generated at halftime.
But Stafford, as he did several times this season, once again came through. His short touchdown pass to Kupp with less than 90 seconds left gave the Rams the lead, and Donald sealed the victory by pressuring Burrow to throw an incomplete, fourth-down pass.
“This is just a long time coming for a lot of guys,” Stafford said.
Stafford among them. After toiling in Detroit for 12 seasons and never winning a playoff game, Stafford still was processing what it meant to be a Super Bowl champion as he answered questions from reporters surrounded by his four daughters.
“I love playing this game for the competition, for the relationships, for the hard times, for the good times, all of it,” said Stafford, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards with two interceptions. “This game can teach us so much as people.
“I get to go to work with people from all walks of life, come together and go for one goal. And for 12 years that goal wasn’t reached, and it tore me up inside, but I knew I could keep playing and try to find a way. And the fact we reached that goal … is so special.”
Next season, the Rams will have a chance to become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowl titles since the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004. But they will savor this championship run, which establishes the Rams as a force in a Los Angeles sports landscape that includes the Lakers and Dodgers, franchises that have won multiple titles and are embedded in local fans’ psyches.
Six years after returning from St. Louis, the Rams won the Super Bowl, the franchise’s second time doing so and first in Los Angeles — and in front of their home fans, no less.
Three years after he was schooled by Patriots coach Bill Belichick in Super Bowl LIII, McVay cemented himself in history by leading his team to a victory over Bengals coach Zac Taylor, a former Rams assistant.
McVay, who was 30 years old when owner Stan Kroenke hired him in 2017, said after the Super Bowl LIII defeat that he would never get over it. But Sunday’s performance completed the healing.
“This was really satisfying,” he said, “to see these guys and to see the looks on their faces, to be able to do it in the house that Mr. Kroenke built, it’s really special.”
The Rams began the season with a mandate to play in the Super Bowl in Kroenke’s $5-billion stadium. General manager Les Snead and McVay assembled a roster full of All-Pros and future Hall of Famers.
The foundation was there, including Donald, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Kupp and fellow receiver Robert Woods, and offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth.
But with the biggest spectacle in American sports coming to Kroenke’s gleaming new palace, Snead and McVay went into overdrive. They traded for Stafford before the season, traded for Miller and signed star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during the season and signed star safety Eric Weddle out of retirement before the playoffs.
All played key roles Sunday, as did other players such as linebacker Ernest Jones, tight end Brycen Hopkins and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson.
Stafford’s touchdown passes to Beckham in the first quarter and to Kupp in the second gave the Rams a 13-10 halftime lead, but they seemed to lose their confidence when Beckham was assisted off the field because of a knee injury late in the second quarter.
The Bengals wasted no time seizing the momentum.
On the first play of the second half, Burrow connected with receiver Tee Higgins for a 75-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bengals their first lead. Replays appeared to show Higgins grabbing cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s facemask, sending him to the turf, before leaping to catch the ball and running 35 yards to the end zone.
On the first play of the Rams’ ensuing drive, Stafford’s pass bounced off the hands of receiver Ben Skowronek — filling in for Beckham — and into the arms of Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. The Bengals converted the turnover into a field goal for a 20-13 lead.
“When you look at the way the second half started, a lot of teams would have folded,” McVay said. “Resilience was on display in a big way.”
Matt Gay’s 41-yard field goal with about six minutes left in the third quarter cut the lead the four. And late in the quarter, the Rams began to get to Burrow consistently.
The teams traded possessions before Stafford got the ball at the Rams’ 21-yard line with just more than six minutes left. He led a 15-play drive ending with a one-yard touchdown pass to Kupp.
Kupp said he ran a route to give “Matthew some room to put the ball wherever he wanted to.”
“He made a great back-shoulder throw, and I was able to come down with it,” Kupp said.
Burrow got the ball with 1:25 left and rookie kicker Evan McPherson readying on the sideline. McPherson had made all 14 of his postseason field-goal attempts, but the Rams did not let it get to that point.
On fourth and one at the 49-yard line, Burrow lined up in the shotgun formation. McVay said he told himself, “Aaron is gonna close the game out right here.”
Donald burst off the line at the snap and nearly pulled Burrow to the turf before the quarterback tossed an errant pass.
“He is the effing man,” McVay said.
In the waning moments of last season’s divisional-round defeat by the Green Bay Packers, Donald stood on the sideline fighting back tears. On Sunday, the tears flowed freely after he put a crowning achievement on his spectacular NFL resume.
“Man, eight years, a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “So, to see it come full circle and be a world champion and all the hard work you put into this game, that’s what it’s for.
“Now it’s mission complete, so you feel grateful.”
Sunday’s victory concluded a season that began with a victory over Chicago at SoFi Stadium, a harbinger of what was to come. After Stafford led a game-winning drive to beat Indianapolis, the Rams defeated defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay at SoFi Stadium.
The Rams lost at home to Arizona but won their next four games for a 7-1 start that made them a legitimate Super Bowl contender and put Stafford in the MVP conversation.
But then the Rams — and Stafford — began to waver. They lost to Tennessee, San Francisco and Green Bay, committing numerous turnovers and getting pushed around by teams that ran right at them.
McVay, perhaps sensing a formula for success, began deploying Sony Michel as the featured back — and the Rams won five in a row, defeating Jacksonville, Arizona, Seattle, Minnesota and Baltimore before losing the finale against the 49ers.
In the playoffs, the Rams dispatched the Cardinals and then blew a 24-point lead against the Buccaneers before Stafford and Kupp set up Gay’s last-second field goal to advance to the NFC championship game, where they finally ended their futility against the 49ers and fulfilled their mandate to play in the Super Bowl.
During the run-up to Sunday’s game, Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said the Super Bowl provided the Rams with a huge opportunity on the sport’s biggest stage to win the game and new fans.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said, “of what we can become.”
On Sunday, they became champions.