Super Bowl LVI in review

The Super Bowl turned out pretty much the way it was expected to go.

It was a close game as expected and the Rams, who were slight favorites, won it by three and didn’t cover the spread.

They won it because their three key players, Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald, took control of the game on the final series for each team. Kupp got the MVP award but they could have shared it.

Stafford and Kupp led the game-winning drive and Donald blew up the Bengals final two plays.

Unfortunately, the officials, who let the two teams play for the first 58 minutes, got too involved at the end.

If not for a questionable pass interference penalty, the Rams would have faced a fourth-and-goal at the 8 with the game on the line instead of a first-and-goal at the 1.

But the Bengals also shot themselves in the foot several times, so they couldn’t blame the officials. To start with, coach Zac Taylor decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield on their first series. The Bengals didn’t convert and gave the Rams good field position for their first touchdown.

It turned out that running back Samaje Perine lined up on the wrong side, according to Phil Simms, bringing the linebacker to the side Joe Burrow was throwing the ball and enabling him to knock away the pass.

And Taylor only gave the ball to Joe Mixon 15 times even though he was averaged 4.8 yards a carry and the Bengals were in the lead much of the second half.

And Mixon wasn’t even on the field when the Bengals had a third-and-1 at midfield on their final drive. Perine got the call and Donald stopped him for no gain. Donald then forced a wild throw on fourth down and the Rams were the champions.

Now the question is where the teams will go from here. The odds are against both of them returning.

The Rams will try to repeat, which hasn’t been done since the Patriots did it in 2003-2004.

And the Bengals face the daunting task of becoming only the second team since the 1972 perfect Dolphins to win the Super Bowl after losing it the previous year. Tom Brady and the Patriots are the only team to do it since then.

And Burrow is trying to become the first quarterback to lose his first Super Bowl appearance and make it back the following year since Jim Kelly lost four in a row in the early 1990s.

Of the last 16 quarterbacks to lose their first Super Bowl start since then, none has returned as a starter. Drew Bledsoe made it back as Brady’s backup.

It was not surprising the close game got good TV ratings to set the stage for what the league hopes will be another good season next year now that a group of young quarterbacks are taking center stage.

But they also have off the field issues, including the discrimination lawsuit filed by former Miami coach Brian Flores, who also claims that owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000 a game to lose games for better draft position.

Ross denies the allegations but the league also has to find ways to get more minority coaches in the ranks of the head coaches.

Previewing Super Bowl LVI

The best storyline of this Super Bowl is that this will be the first one matching two quarterbacks taken with the first pick of the draft.

But that is about the only thing that Joe Burrow of the Bengals and Matthew Stafford of the Rams have in common.

Stafford spent 12 years with Detroit without winning a playoff game before being traded to the Rams and he is in the Super Bowl in his first year with them. A victory would feed the narrative that he never reached his potential because he had bad teams around him in Detroit.

It would also give coach Sean McVay his first Super victory after he and quarterback Jared Goff seemed overmatched ion his first Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots. A loss would give him an 0-2 Super Bowl record.

Burrow, by contrast, in his second year and he’s one of the young guns in the AFC along with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert.

So far, Mahomes is more accomplished with four consecutive trips to the AFC title games with two wins and a 1-1 Super Bowl record.

But Mahones had a poor second half against the Bengals last week after throwing an ill advised pass at the end of the first half that cost the Chiefs a field goal.

Burrow led the team to the overtime victory after they overcame a 21-3 first half deficit.

A Super Bowl victory would put him in Tom Brady territory. He won the first of his seven Super Bowls in his second year.

One key to the game is whether the Bengals can protect Burrow, who was sacked nine times by the Titans. But even though they have Aaron Donald and Von Miller up front, the Rams are usually best at rushing the passer when they blitz.

On the other hand, Burrow is good at beating the blitz and the Rams have a shaky secondary except for Jalen Ramsey. So it figures to be an intriguing matchup and the stage probably isn’t too big for Burrow, who plays like a veteran.

The Rams are favored by four, but the game is likely to be closer than that even though the Rams have a home field edge.

Nobody will be surprised if this game goes to overtime or is decided on a field goal on the final play of regulation.

It has all the makings of a memorable Super Bowl.

NFL conference title games in review

The Los Angeles Rams were all in for a Super Bowl-or-bust run this year.

The Cincinnati Bengals were in what appeared to be the second year of a rebuilding program with quarterback Joe Burrow returning from the injury that he suffered last year.

Despite their different journeys, the two teams pulled off comebacks in the conference games to advance to this year’s Super Bowl.

The Bengals rallied from a 21-3 deficit to upset the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime while the Rams were favored over the 49ers after losing six consecutive games to them and needed a fourth quarter comeback to post the victory, 20-17.

For both winners, there was a lot of vindication.

The Rams continued their policy of throwing draft picks around like confetti, and it worked.

Among the moves this season were trading for quarterback Matthew Stafford in the offseason and for defensive standout Von Miller during the season. Both were valuable additions to the team.

Stafford didn’t win a playoff in his 12 years with the Lions, but the Rams decided he would be an upgrade over Jared Goff. He had some ups and downs during the regular season as he threw 17 picks, but he threw only one in the playoffs.

For Bengals owner Mike Brown, the son of legendary coach Paul Brown, it was a chance to show he could put together a Super Bowl team.

The Bengals had gone 31 years without a playoff win. Marvin Lewis coached the team to the playoffs seven times in 16 years but didn’t win a playoff game. Brown and Lewis parted ways after the 2018 season.

And the drafting of Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase with their first picks the last two years helped coach Zac Taylor build a playoff team.

And both teams took advantage of blunders by the losing teams. Kansas City had a 21-10 lead with five seconds left in first half. Instead of taking the field goal, they tried a play that didn’t work. And in the second half, the Chiefs didn’t adjust when the Bengals used a 3-8 alignment and didn’t run the ball enough.

The 49ers had a fourth-and-2 in fourth quarter, leading by three. Instead of going for it, they punted and opened the door for the Rams comeback victory.

So now the Rams will host the Super Bowl in their home stadium. It never happened before last year when Tampa Bay played the Super Bowl against the Chiefs in their home stadium.

In 1979, the Rams played the Super Bowl in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena against the Steelers. The Rams led after three quarters but the Steelers rallied to win their fourth Super Bowl in the fourth quarter.

The Rams last made the Super Bowl after the 2018 season and lost to the Patriots. The Rams also made it twice when they were in St. Louis, beating the Titans in 1999 and lost to the Patriots in 2001.

Cincinnati is playing in its third Super Bowl and lost to the 49ers in its first two appearances in 1981 and 1988.