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Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald carry Rams past Bengals in Super Bowl

Updated February 13, 2022 - 9:29 pm

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Down a key player and running out of time against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, the Rams turned to their two most trusted players late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

As Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald have shown so many times over the years, they were more than up for the challenge. Playing in front of a who’s who list of Hollywood celebrities and Los Angeles sports and entertainment royalty at a rollicking SoFi Stadium, Kupp and Donald etched their names in history by coming up with a handful of clutch plays over a frenzied final five-minute sequence.

In the process, they redirected the Rams from a potential upset loss to a thrilling 23-20 victory that delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl championship while calling Los Angeles home and only its second Super Bowl championship in franchise history.

Kupp finished with eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors. But it was his work in the Rams game-winning drive that stood the tallest.

First, he took a fourth-and-one jet sweep seven yards for a key first down with five minutes left and the Rams trailing 20-16. Then he added catches of eight, 22 and eight yards to get the Rams to the Bengals 16 with 2:02 remaining.

Then he induced two defensive penalties to help set up the Rams at the Bengals’ 1-yard-line. He capped it all off by losing Bengals cornerback Eli Apple at the line of scrimmage, then turning to catch a 1-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to put the Rams up 23-20.

That he did it without Odell Beckham, who was lost for the game with a knee injury in the second quarter, made it all the more impressive.

“They were double-teaming Coop on every third down,” said Stafford, who languished for so many years in Detroit only to come to Los Angeles and win a Super Bowl championship in his first year with the Rams.

Yet Kupp still kept coming up with big plays.

“Cooper Kupp is the man,” added Rams coach Sean McVay, who has a Super Bowl championship and two Super Bowl appearances in his first five years as an NFL head coach.

Kupp was injured and didn’t play when the Rams lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. But he revealed on Sunday that almost immediately after that loss he had a vision that the Rams would eventually get back to the Super Bowl. Not only would they win, Kupp said, but he would leave the field as the game MVP.

“I shared that with my wife because I couldn’t tell anyone else, obviously,” Kupp said. “But from the moment this postseason started, there was just a belief. Every game there was just … it was written already.”

The Rams turned things over to Donald after Kupp’s touchdown grab, and their future Hall of Fame defensive tackle almost single-handedly made sure Joe Burrow and the Bengals wouldn’t produce a magical ending.

“You’ve got to be relentless,” Donald said. “When you want something bad enough, you have to go get it.”

That he did.

With the Bengals facing a third-and-one at the Rams’ 49-yard-line, Donald stood up Cincinnati right guard Hakeem Adeniji, then reached behind him to pull down running back Joe Mixon short of the sticks to force a fourth down. On the next play, Donald ran right around left guard Quinton Spain to get his hands on Burrow and start pulling him to the ground,

“I tried to hit the ball out,” said Donald, who then watched anxiously as the ball flew out of Burrows’s hands. “I was a little nervous.”

When it fell hopelessly to the ground, the celebration erupted.

“He’s one of one,” said Rams safety Eric Weddle. “I’ve played with a lot of great players. He is the best.”

Donald had four tackles — two for loss — two sacks and three quarterback hits to lead a ferocious Rams pass rush.

“Aaron Donald is good, man,” said Von Miller, a midseason pickup from the Broncos who added two sacks on Sunday.

In all, the Rams sacked Burrow seven times to help hold the Bengals scoreless over the final 24:45 of the game. It was a needed response to the 17-0 run by the Bengals to go up 20-13 early in the third quarter.

“Our line really carried us in the second half,” said Weddle. “They really deserve all of the praise for getting us this win.”

Donald, in particular, was the ring leader in a stifling effort that forced four straight punts and a change of possession on downs on the last five Bengals drives.

“Gosh, he was unstoppable,” said Weddle.

So was Kupp.

And now the Rams are Super Bowl champions.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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