Recap: Stafford leads fourth-quarter comeback, Rams win Super Bowl LVI
Matthew Stafford and the Rams' stars delivered when it mattered the most.
Stafford led a fourth-quarter comeback by completing four passes to his favorite target, Cooper Kupp, during a 15-play, 79-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 1-yard TD that gave the Rams a 23-20 lead with 1:29 to play.
Stafford hooked up with Kupp on back-to-back completions for 30 total yards that put the Rams in the red zone. With a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, Stafford overthrew an open Van Jefferson in the back of the end zone before the drive was aided by a pair of penalties.
One came on third down when Cincinnati’s Logan Wilson was called for defensive holding on Kupp. Two plays later, the Bengals were called for defensive pass interference in the end zone on Kupp, setting the Rams up with a first-and-goal at the 1. In between those plays, a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kupp was nullified by offsetting penalties.
From that point, all that separated the Rams from their first Super Bowl win since 1999 was one last defensive stand.
With the game on the line, Rams' Aaron Donald came through and pressured Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-1 near midfield with 43 seconds to go. The Rams took over and ran out the clock, giving Stafford, the former longtime Lion, his first Super Bowl ring.
Stafford was 26-for-40 passing with 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions and engineered his third game-winning drive in the playoffs. Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP after finishing with eight catches for 92 yards and two scores.
Defense taking over
The defenses are starting to dig in and dial up the pressure on Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford.
Following the Rams’ field goal, the Bengals were held to a three-and-out where Burrow was sacked for a 7-yard loss Ernest Jones.
The Rams suffered the same fate and were forced to punt after a three-and-out of their own that ended with Stafford getting sacked by D.J. Reader on third down for a 6-yard loss. On the sack, Reader rolled up on Stafford’s left ankle and he hobbled off field. However, Stafford was taped up on the sideline and remained in the game.
Things didn’t get any better for the Bengals and Rams on their ensuing possessions, as they were held to a second straight three-and-out. Burrow was sacked on first and second down, putting the Bengals in a third-and-22 situation. The Rams didn't get much on two straight run plays and Stafford’s pass on third down was incomplete.
The Bengals snapped the three-and-out streak when Burrow connected with Tyler Boyd for a 16-yard completion. But Cincinnati couldn’t get anything going after that as Burrow was sacked once again, this time on third down, and limped off the field.
After the Rams followed with another quick three-and-out, the Bengals picked up a pair of first downs but saw their drive sputter when Tyler Body dropped a pass near midfield on a third-and-9. That led to another punt with the Bengals leading 20-16 with 6:20 to play.
Rams answer with FG
Matthew Stafford shook off the interception and engineered a 10-play, 52-yard drive that ended with a 41-yard field goal by Matt Gay, cutting the Bengals’ lead to 20-16 with 5:58 left in the third.
With the run game generating next to nothing against the Bengals’ front, Stafford did much of the work and completed passes of 15, 13 and 16 yards to put the Rams in scoring position.
The Rams had a chance to extend the drive when it dialed up a trick play on a third-and-5 at the Cincinnati 23-yard line and Stafford was open as a receiver. But Cooper Kupp's throw was off the mark and sailed over Stafford’s head.
Bengals jump on top
Talk about a wild start to the second half. Within the blink of an eye, the Bengals have taken the lead over the Rams.
On the first play of the third quarter, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins to take a 17-13 lead. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey fell and there was contact on the play, but no flag was thrown.
The Bengals maintained the momentum by picking off Matthew Stafford on the first play of the ensuing drive at L.A.'s 31-yard line when Ben Skowronek couldn't corral a pass, making it a miserable 22 seconds for the Rams. It was Stafford's second interception of the game.
Cincinnati took advantage of the short field and tacked on a 38-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to push the lead to 20-13 with 10:15 left in the third.
Rams take 13-10 lead into halftime
After Cincinnati and Los Angeles combined for three straight scoring drives, the defenses stepped up late in the second quarter as the Rams took a 13-10 lead into halftime.
The Bengals came away with their first turnover when Matthew Stafford’s deep pass intended for Van Jefferson in the end zone on a third-and-14 was intercepted by Jessie Bates III at the two-minute warning. Five plays before that, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. needed to be helped off field with a non-contact injury to his left leg.
On the next drive, the Rams didn’t let Joe Burrow and Co. get very far. After picking up a first down, the Rams stiffened, forced a third-down situation and sacked Burrow for an 8-yard loss to get the ball back at their 41-yard line with 30 seconds left in the half.
However, the Rams couldn’t add to the lead before the break as Stafford’s pass to Jefferson on a third-and-1 at midfield was off the mark.
At the half, Stafford is 12-for-18 passing with 165 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, Burrow is 12-for-18 passing for 114 yards and the Bengals hold a 43-26 advantage in rushing yards.
The Bengals used a little trickery to score their first touchdown of the game as the scoring is starting to pick up.
After marching down the field, running back Joe Mixon took the ball in the backfield, ran to his right and tossed a pass to Tee Higgins for a 6-yard score, cutting the Rams’ lead to 13-10 with 5:47 left in the second quarter.
Mixon's pass capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive that featured three pass plays of at least 10 yards by Joe Burrow and a pair of critical third-down conversions, including a 4-yard run by Ja’Maar Chase on a third-and-2 at the Rams’ 11 that set up the touchdown.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Mixon is the fifth non-QB to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
Stafford tosses another TD
Matthew Stafford and the Rams wasted little time answering the Bengals’ field goal with a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took less than three minutes.
Stafford capped the drive with his second touchdown pass of the game, this time rolling out and hooking up with Cooper Kupp in the right corner of the end zone from 11 yards out to give the Rams a 13-3 lead with 12:56 left in the second quarter.
Stafford kept the drive alive by finding Odell Beckham Jr. for 35 yards on a third-and-11. He followed that with a 25-yard pass to Darrell Henderson. Two plays later, Stafford found the end zone and the Rams’ extra point try was no good on a botched hold.
Stafford has completed nine of 10 passes for 127 yards and two scores.
Bengals get on the board
The Bengals couldn’t get much going against the Rams’ defense on their first two drives, but they were finally able to break through late in the first quarter.
Cincinnati moved the chains for the first time as it opened the possession with a 13-yard run by Joe Mixon. That was followed by a 46-yard pass from Joe Burrow to Ja’Maar Chase, setting the Bengals up in the red zone with a first-and-10 at the Rams’ 11-yard line.
But the Bengals’ drive sputtered, and they had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to cut the Rams’ lead to 7-3 with 28 seconds left in the first half.
The Rams and Bengals traded three-and-outs before the Bengals got on the board.
Rams strike first on Stafford TD
After forcing a turnover on downs near midfield, the Rams were able to take advantage of the short field and strike first. Matthew Stafford capped a six-play, 50-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr., giving the Rams a 7-0 lead with 6:22 left in the first quarter.
The drive featured a pair of big passes from Stafford. On a third-and-4 from the Cincinnati 44, Stafford found Cooper Kupp for a 20-yard gain to extend the drive. Three plays later, Stafford hooked up with Beckham on a third-and-3 to open the scoring.
Bengals' early gamble fails
Cincinnati didn’t fare much better on its first offensive possession. After Joe Burrow hooked up with Tyler Boyd for 8 yards on the first play, the promising start quickly fizzled. The Rams stuffed the Bengals on back-to-back run plays, setting up a fourth-and-1 near midfield that Cincinnati opted to go for.
The gamble didn’t pass off as Burrow’s pass for Ja’Marr Chase was incomplete, giving the Rams the ball their 49-yard line with 9:57 left in the first half.
Rams go nowhere on first drive
The Bengals won the coin toss — it was heads — and elected to defer, giving Matthew Stafford and the Rams the ball first.
After a touchback on the opening kickoff, the Rams picked up a first down in two plays, with Stafford finding Cam Akers for 7 yards. But after that, Los Angeles started going backwards as Cincinnati’s defense stood tall. The Bengals held the Rams to no gain before sacking Stafford for 7 yards and coming up with another tackle for loss, forcing Los Angeles to punt after a fourth-and-20.
The final game of the 2021-22 NFL season is just about here.
Bob Wojnowski and Jerry Green of The Detroit News are in Inglewood, Calif. You can follow Wojnowski throughout the game on Twitter @bobwojnowski. Jerry Green is covering his 56th consecutive Super Bowl, the only reporter to attend every Super Bowl.
Here's some pregame reading from Wojo and Green, who will have complete postgame coverage after Super Bowl LVI.
Today's game features the Rams, who traded for longtime Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford last offseason, hoping that he would be the key to making — and winning — this exact game.
The Cincinnati Bengals, meanwhile, couldn't possibly have expected the turnaround they've seen with second-year quarterback Joe Burrow leading the way.
With offense front and center at Super Bowl LVI, will it be a pair of defenses that steal the show? Can Stafford get it done in the biggest game of his life, or will the young buck Burrow that comes out on top?
Detroit News staff writer James Hawkins has you covered with live updates as the Rams take on the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Super Bowl LVI
► Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif.
► Who: Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals
► TV: NBC
► Line: Rams by 4