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Super Bowl LVI Recap (Bengals X Rams)

It finally happened. For two straight weeks, NFL experts have been saying that the Bengals' offensive line was going to be a big problem against the Rams. For two straight weeks, no one in Cincinnati listened. And for one half, at least, the good people of Cincinnati were right. The second half told a different story.

The Los Angeles Rams are your Super Bowl Champions after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 23 - 20 at SoFi Stadium in sunny Los Angeles. Rams' quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to eventual Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp. Kupp, who was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year just four days ago, was brilliant all game, but especially on the last drive of the game for the Rams in which he hauled in the game winning touchdown.

By the way, Kupp should have erased all doubts about his skill with that final drive showing. In total, Kupp caught four passes on the drive for 39 yards and the winning score. He also took a handoff for seven yards on a crucial fourth down. Had the Bengals defense made the stop on that handoff, Cincinnati would be celebrating its first Super Bowl victory instead of bemoaning its third close defeat.

Despite handling the Rams' offense for much of the game, the Bengals' defense just didn't have enough left in the tank to pull out another unlikely victory. Bengals' safety Jessie Bates III and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie both intercepted Stafford, the run defense held the Rams to just 43 yards on 23 carries and the unit allowed the Rams to convert just 6 of 15 third down attempts. This was a winning effort from the Bengals' D. The offense just couldn't get out of its own way.

Things started slowly and they finished worse. Quarterback Joe Burrow looked a little off to start the game, misfiring on a couple passes. The run game, though, was effective for the most part, giving the Bengals' a dimension they'd been lacking for much for the postseason. Surprisingly, Burrow was only sacked once in the first half. That didn't last.

Burrow's sack total ballooned from one to seven by the end of the game, tying a Super Bowl record. Burrow also now comfortably holds the record for most times sacked in one postseason with 19. His 70 sacks taken in the 2021 regular and post-season now rank third all-time. Did I mention the offensive line was a problem?

Aaron Donald, the Rams' superstar defensive tackle and possibly the greatest defensive player in NFL history, had himself a game as well. If he retires, a possibility he floated after the game, he sure saved an all-time performance for the Super Bowl. Donald finished with two sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hits, but Donald's biggest play came on the Rams' last defensive play of the game.

Having watched the Rams drive the length of the field to go up 23 - 20, Burrow and the Bengals' offense had one last opportunity put points on the board. This wasn't a monster undertaking, mind you. The Bengals happen to have an outstanding young kicker who earned his nickname "Money McPherson" by being money from 50+ yards. After a touchback on the kickoff, the Bengals took over on their own 25-yard line with 1:25 remaining, needing to just get to about the Rams 40 to give their precocious kicker an opportunity to send the game to overtime. The offense, which had come through so many times before, couldn't make it happen this time.

Burrow completed his first pass of the drive to Ja'Marr Chase for 17 yards before finding Tyler Boyd for nine more. The Bengals now had the ball on the Rams' 49-yard line and a minute remaining. Plenty of time. But it wasn't meant to be.

Burrow's next pass would fall incomplete, setting up a critical third down. In one of the more bizarre moves of the day, Bengals' backup running back Samaje Perine would take the handoff. He was met immediately by Donald himself for no gain. Now, it was fourth down.

Burrow would take the snap and, almost immediately, Donald was on him. Burrow tried to pirouette away from the beastly Donald but there was no escape. Burrow hurled a wayward pass into no-mans-land, and it fell harmlessly to the turf. Ballgame.

In all, despite the loss, it was a tremendous effort from the Bengals. This was a team no one expected to be in this situation. Many thought the Rams would blow the doors off the young upstarts from Cincinnati. That didn't happen.

At the same time, it's impossible to deny the talent advantage the Rams had, especially against the Bengals' offensive line. Burrow might have been sacked seven times, but it could have been even worse. Donald and edge rusher Von Miller, the two players pegged as most likely to disrupt the Bengals' offense, were, in a word, disruptive.

While the Bengals' season ended in disappointment, the effort and heart this team showed will never be forgotten in Cincinnati. Throughout the year, these Bengals faced tremendous adversity and overcame challenges no team has ever overcome to reach the Super Bowl. The future is bright for this organization. As long as Burrow is tossing passes to his pal Chase, things will be okay. It's not the ending we wanted, but it might be the fuel the team really needed to be truly great.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see how overmatched this Bengals' team was at times. But with tons of cap space and an easily identifiable need at offensive line, the 2022 Bengals' vintage should be much improved. The Bengals are down right now, but they will be back and more motivated than ever. The NFL should watch out.

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