LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Cooper Kupp scored two touchdowns and Aaron Donald spearheaded a fearsome defensive display as the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, to win the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Kupp scored a decisive touchdown with 1min 25sec remaining to give the Rams the lead at SoFi Stadium before Donald grabbed the Rams’ record-breaking eighth sack of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to seal a blockbuster victory.
Donald’s sack of Burrow was the dramatic final act of a gripping contest between the star-studded Rams and the Bengals, whose bid to win a first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy fell agonizingly short.
“I’m just so happy,” said Rams defensive star Donald. “I wanted this so bad. I dreamed this.”
“One play and we’re world champs,” Donald added of his crucial late sack of Burrow. “Any way to get to him. We made it.”
Wide receiver Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP three years after missing the Rams last appearance in a Super Bowl through injury.
“It is unbelievable,” Kupp said. “To be able to experience this with my family. It has been such a fun ride. Up and down but fun.”
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, meanwhile, paid tribute to his team’s never-say-die approach.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Stafford said. “There are so many guys on our team that deserve this, so many guys who gave their heart and soul to this team.
“That game today is the story of our season. It’s up and down it’s tough. We’re a tough team. We showed up late and got it done.”
The Bengals had stormed into a 20-13 lead early in the second half after a controversial Tee Higgins touchdown and an Evan McPherson field goal.
Higgins raced for a 75-yard score but replays showed he grabbed Rams’ safety Jalen Ramsey’s facemask before breaking clear — an infringement that should have led to a penalty.
– ‘Stars came to life’ –
But the Rams, who had struggled to build momentum on offense after a game-ending injury to Odell Beckham Jr., clawed their way back into the game thanks to their rampant defense led by Donald.
Burrow was sacked repeatedly at key moments to prevent the Bengals from extending their lead.
Matt Gay’s field goal pulled the Rams back to 20-16 heading into the fourth quarter.
Stafford then led a 15-play, 79-yard drive that benefited from three crucial Bengals penalties near the goal line before Kupp plucked a one-yard pass in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
“Stafford and Kupp came to life,” said Rams head coach Sean McVay — who becomes the youngest ever head coach to win the Super Bowl at the age of 36. “Our best players shined the brightest when they had to and that’s why we got it done.”
Kupp and Beckham had both scored early touchdowns to give the Rams a 13-3 lead in the second quarter before the Bengals battled back into the contest.
The defeat was brutal on Bengals quarterback Burrow, the 25-year-old rising star who has helped transform Cincinnati’s fortunes this season.
Burrow finished with 263 passing yards and one touchdown but was buffeted all night and sacked eight times, a record for a Super Bowl.
Stafford, meanwhile, finished with 283 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
It was the Rams second franchise Super Bowl victory and their first since returning to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016. Their previous win came in 2000.
It was the third Super Bowl defeat in as many appearances for the Bengals, who also dropped the title contest in 1982 and 1989.
Sunday’s showstopping finale was a fitting end to one of the most gripping NFL post-seasons in years.
With Los Angeles basking in a February heatwave, a 70,000-capacity crowd packed with Hollywood celebrities were given a show-stopping halftime show led by icons Snoop Dogg, Dr.Dre, Eminem and Mary J. Blige.