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Rams’ gambles pay off with the ultimate prize: The Super Bowl LVI title

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp had the winning touchdown catch with 1:25 to play. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams cashed in on the big bets they made on themselves. They are Super Bowl champions.

Their season of high-stakes, all-in roster maneuvers culminated with a victory Sunday on football’s grandest stage. The Rams delivered in the final minutes to beat the upstart Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, at SoFi Stadium in Super Bowl LVI.

“That’s what makes this team great,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said. “That’s why they’re world champs because our best players stepped up in the most crucial and critical moments.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s one-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp with 1:25 remaining won it for the Rams. It was a penalty-filled decisive drive. The Bengals were called for holding, an illegal hit on Kupp and pass interference in the final sequence. Kupp remained in the game after absorbing a jarring hit on a would-be touchdown catch a few plays earlier that was nullified by offsetting penalties.

“That last drive was a special drive that I’ll never forget,” Stafford said. “Just so many great plays by so many great players. I’m just so happy to get it done.”

The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Feb. 13 in Inglewood, Calif., to become the Super Bowl champions. (Video: Reuters)

Stafford threw three touchdown passes — two to Kupp and one to fellow wideout Odell Beckham Jr. Kupp finished with eight catches for 92 yards and was named the game’s MVP. But the Rams lost Beckham to a first-half knee injury and allowed a 13-3 lead to slip away before their own late rally.

The Bengals turned a halftime deficit into a 20-13 lead by scoring 10 quick points to open the third quarter. Wide receiver Tee Higgins had two touchdown catches in all, one thrown by quarterback Joe Burrow and the other by running back Joe Mixon. Evan McPherson added two field goals, and the defense had two interceptions.

But the Bengals could not hold on or respond to the Rams’ final touchdown. The Bengals’ last-gasp drive ended with a fourth-down incompletion by Burrow, under heavy pressure, with 39 seconds to play.

“Obviously it stings,” Burrow said. “But we had a great year. It didn’t come out this last game the way we wanted to, but I think we still have something to celebrate.”

Burrow was sacked seven times, including twice each by Aaron Donald and Von Miller, and grabbed his right knee after one play late in the game.

“We’ll get it checked out after the game and when we get back to Cincinnati,” Burrow said. “But I wasn’t coming out.”

The Bengals remained without a Super Bowl triumph, falling to 0-3 in football’s signature event. They were the feel-good story of the NFL postseason, but they failed to achieve a gratifyingly victorious ending.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done,” Coach Zac Taylor said. “We’ve done it the right way. We are a first-class organization from top to bottom. I think that we’ve given the fans something really to be proud of and cheer about. And that’s a plus for us.”

The Rams became the second straight NFL team to secure a Super Bowl triumph on its home field. They followed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won last year’s game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa after the feat never had been accomplished previously. The Rams did it on a steamy day in the Los Angeles area in the first Super Bowl matchup of the No. 4 seeds from the AFC and NFC playoffs.

“These guys did it,” McVay said. “They’re a mentally tough group. ... [The Bengals] played the same way that we did. We found a way to make a couple more plays than they did.”

No one was mistaking the Rams for underdogs, not with their star-laden roster and their Super Bowl-or-bust approach to this season. They traded for Stafford last offseason. They continued during the regular season, trading for Miller and signing Beckham after he was released by the Cleveland Browns in November.

The moves paid off handsomely. Stafford had been winless in the playoffs over a dozen seasons with the Detroit Lions. Now, in his first season with the Rams, he helped to secure four postseason victories and is a champion. So, too, is McVay, who had admitted to being out-coached by Bill Belichick three years ago when the Rams, with Jared Goff at quarterback, lost to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

“This is just a long time coming for a lot of guys,” Stafford said.

The Rams secured their first Super Bowl win since January 2000, when the franchise was based in St. Louis and Kurt Warner was throwing passes to Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. This was their first Super Bowl victory as a Los Angeles-based team.

Stafford threw first-half touchdown passes of 17 yards to Beckham and 11 yards to Kupp. The Rams botched the extra point following Kupp’s touchdown and led 13-10 at halftime. Beckham left the game after injuring his left knee on an incomplete pass.

Updates and analysis from Sunday's Super Bowl LVI

The Bengals got a field goal by McPherson, set up by a spectacular one-handed catch by rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase for a 46-yard gain that victimized Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and a gadget-play touchdown pass from Mixon to Higgins covering six yards.

The game shifted quickly after halftime, with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Higgins on the first snap of the third quarter. The officials missed a penalty on Higgins for grabbing Ramsey’s face mask on the play. Stafford threw an interception to cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on the Rams’ first play of the quarter, leading to a Bengals field goal. The Rams responded with a field goal to finish a drive that stalled with a trick play gone awry as Kupp overthrew Stafford.

“We just stuck to it,” Miller said. “It wasn’t a speech or nothing.”

When it mattered, it was Stafford and Kupp who delivered.

“Matthew and Cooper made the most of their opportunities,” McVay said, “at the most important and critical times.”

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