INGLEWOOD, Calif. — There was no heroics in the end from Bengals kicker Evan McPherson.
There was no dynamic catch to put Cincinnati in position to win as it has done throughout the 2021 NFL Playoffs.
Instead, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow’s fourth-and-one pass fell to the turf at SoFi Stadium, preserving a 23-20 Los Angeles Rams win in Super Bowl LVI in front of 70,048 fans on Sunday.
“You try to do anything you can to complete the ball,” Burrow said of the final incomplete pass of the season. “I’m disappointed in my performance overall. I thought I could have played better, give us a better chance to win, but you live and learn.”
Burrow, who was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, finished with 263 yards passing and completed 22 of 38 attempts with one touchdown.
The Bengals tried to rally after Rams’ quarterback Matthew Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp on a one-yard touchdown pass to take the lead for good with 1:25 to play in the game.
Los Angeles had several attempts inside the Cincinnati 10-yard line, thanks in part to a controversial defensive holding call on Bengals’ linebacker Logan Wilson that put the ball inside the five.
“Yeah, I mean, Cooper (Kupp) came up to me and tried to push off of me and I thought I made a good play on the ball and the refs saw otherwise,” Wilson said after the loss. “It’s a tough call.”
That play was followed by a pass interference call on the Bengals, which put the ball at the one-yard line with 1:35 to play.
“Well, there’s some things that are out of our control,” Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson said. “Just a couple of judgement calls there. But again, really proud of this defense. It’s hard to say. At the end of the day, it’s not the way we all envisioned it going. But the way we fought, you know, I’m proud of these guys.”
The win was the second Super Bowl victory for the Rams’ franchise, while the Bengals fell short in trying to capture the city’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy for the third time.
The Rams jumped out to a 13-3 lead in the first half — after Stafford threw TD passes to Odell Beckham Jr. and Kupp.
Stafford finished the game with 283 yards in the air, and completed 26 of 40 passes with three TDs and two interceptions.
Los Angeles’ first score was set up when Bengals head coach Zac Taylor chose to go for it on a fourth-down-and-one on the Rams’ 49-yard-line.
Burrow’s pass was incomplete, and the Rams took over on downs with a short field.
“Yeah, being aggressive is what has gotten us this far,” Taylor said. “We wanted to give our guys some opportunities to make some explosive plays against a team that really prides themselves on not giving up explosive plays. We wanted to be in attack mode and put the most pressure on them as possible. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.”
Six plays later, Stafford connected with Beckham on a 12-yard scoring play with 6:22 left in the first quarter.
Beckham was injured in the second quarter and did not return, but had 52 yards on two receptions.
Cincinnati answered with a 29-yard field goal from McPherson, making the score 7-3 with 28 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
The field goal was set up by a dazzling play from Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who snatched a one-handed 46-yard catch at the 11-yard line.
The NFL Rookie of the Year had 89 yards receiving on five catches with one TD.
The Bengals closed the gap to 13-10 with 5:47 to play in the half, when Burrow tossed the ball to running back Joe Mixon, who pulled up and tossed a six-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins in the back of the end zone.
Cincinnati opened the third quarter with a statement, when Burrow connected with Higgins for a 75-yard scoring strike on the first play from scrimmage.
Higgins posted 100 yards receiving on four catches and two touchdowns.
On the Rams next series, Cincinnati cornerback Awuzie Chidobe picked off Stafford at the LA 31-yard line.
“I was just playing press coverage and trying to get my hands on the guy,” he said. “The ball just found me.”
Six plays later, McPherson nailed a 38-yard field goal to boost the Bengals’ lead to 20-13.
McPherson’s field goal tied Adam Vinatieri’s record for most field goals in a single postseason.
“I really just try to take it one game at a time,” McPherson said. “I had the goal to break the record and you know we tied it. So, I mean that is cool and all, but it sucks we didn’t win.”
The Rams then score 10 unanswered points, and stopped the Bengals on the final drive.
“It hurts,” Burrow said. “We put a lot of work into going out there and executing and performing well, and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted,” Burrow added. “So it’s disappointing.”
With the win, Rams coach Sean McVay becomes the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl at 36 years and 20 days.