INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Odell Beckham Jr. had every reason to cry on Super Bowl Sunday.
He cried tears of gratitude during the national anthem. He cried tears of devastation on the sideline after a non-contact knee injury ended his day.
And he cried tears of joy as blue and yellow confetti floated through the air at SoFi Stadium.
Beckham and the Los Angeles Rams are World Champions, 23-20 winners of Super Bowl LVI on MVP Cooper Kupp’s second touchdown of the game with 1:25 to play.
Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defensive line terrorized Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, tying a Super Bowl record with seven sacks (Steelers on Roger Staubach in Super Bowl X).
And it was Donald (two sacks), who pressured Burrow on the final fourth down of the game to snuff out underdog Cincinnati’s comeback try.
“I wanted it so bad,” a sobbing Donald told NBC on the field postgame. “I dreamed this! This is surreal.”
Kupp, who finished with eight catches for 92 yards and two TDs, erupted for four catches and 39 yards on the Rams’ decisive drive.
They had help from the referees, who threw a highly questionable holding flag on Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson in the red zone to keep the Rams’ 15-play, 79-yard drive alive.
Former Giants first-round pick Eli Apple then got picked on twice in man coverage on Kupp: once for pass interference in the end zone, and again for the go-ahead TD.[More Sports] Steve Nash: Nets excited to have Ben Simmons, even if he doesn’t shoot »
The Rams won their franchise’s second ever Super Bowl, the other coming when they were the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV in the 1999 NFL season.
They gave Los Angeles just its second ever Super Bowl title, following the L.A. Raiders’ title in Super Bowl XVIII in the 1983 NFL season.
Rams GM Les Snead’s aggressive all-in work building a winning roster paid off, including this past offseason’s recruitment and trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Head coach Sean McVay redeemed himself with a win after losing Super Bowl LIII to the Patriots, 13-3, in the 2018 NFL season.
The Rams became the second NFL team ever to win a Super Bowl on their home field, and the second in a row, following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year.
Beckham had risen to the moment in the game’s first 16 minutes, with two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown through the Rams’ first four drives.[More Sports] D.J. Augustin makes perfect sense for the Nets on the buyout market »
He caught the game’s first touchdown, a 17-yard haul in the end zone’s back right corner over Bengals corner Mike Hilton, for a 7-0 lead with 6:22 to play in the first quarter.
Then, after the Bengals’ Evan McPherson kicked a 29-yard field goal, OBJ made a 35-yard catch and run going left across the field and up the right sideline.
That set up Stafford’s second TD pass, 11 yards to Cooper Kupp over the head of Bengals corner Eli Apple, another former Giants first-round pick. The score put the Rams up, 13-3, with 12:51 left in the first half, after a botched hold on the extra point.
The Bengals cooly answered with a 12-play, 75-yard TD drive, however, on the back of running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon racked up 30 rushing/receiving yards on the drive, then threw a 6-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins on a trick play to bring Cincinnati within 13-10 at 5:47 of the second quarter.[More Sports] Bob Raissman: Mental health up for debate as Ben Simmons arrives in Brooklyn »
The Rams would carry that lead into halftime, but it didn’t feel like they were ahead.
That’s because Beckham hurt his surgically repaired left knee with 3:54 left in the first half, due to a Stafford throw behind the receiver that forced Beckham to slow down and turn back.
Beckham had torn the ACL in that same knee last season with the Browns, rehabbing and gaining his release from Cleveland this November to sign for the Rams’ playoff run.
Stafford’s bad drive continued when he never saw an open Cooper Kupp downfield. And it concluded on a forced heave interception to Bengals safety Jessie Bates III, looking for wideout Van Jefferson.
The turning tide manifested itself immediately in the early third quarter.
Burrow stepped through pressure and launched a 75-yard touchdown to Tee Higgins on the first play from scrimmage of the second half. That lifted the Bengals to a 17-13 lead at 14:48 of the third.
Higgins got away with a facemask on Rams corner Jalen Ramsey as the two players competed for the jump ball. But Ramsey is the Rams’ expensive lockdown corner, and that was the second of three huge completions against him in man coverage.
The first was a 46-yard hit to Ja’Marr Chase that set up the Bengals’ first points on McPherson’s early field goal. And the third was a 17-yard hit to Chase on Cincinnati’s final drive of the fourth.
In the third quarter, McPherson added a 38-yard field goal with 10:15 remaining to extend Cincinnati’s lead to 20-13.
And after a 41-yard Matt Gay field goal for the Rams at 5:58 of the third quarter, neither team managed another point until the fateful, final two minutes.