It’s Rams’ title-winning expectations vs. Bengals’ unexpected run in Super Bowl LVI
Before he joined the Rams, Matthew Stafford had never won a playoff game.
Before this season, the Cincinnati Bengals had gone 31 years without winning one. It was the longest active postseason drought of the four major professional sports.
Talk about colliding Hollywood stories.
The Rams and Bengals will meet in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium, the glistening $5-billion palace that played host to Sunday’s NFC championship game.
“It’s beyond surreal,” said Rams executive Kevin Demoff, ducking out of the locker room delirium to speak to a reporter. “We dream of moving this team back to Los Angeles, building this stadium, hosting a Super Bowl, hosting the championship, and we beat the 49ers to make the Super Bowl in your own building? It’s unbelievable.”
The Rams spared no expense building a Super Bowl-caliber roster, and the team cashed in on expectations with a win over the 49ers in the NFC title game.
To Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, it was all a beautiful mystery.
“I don’t know how like the logistics of it work,” Ramsey said. “Hopefully we can get our locker room. I don’t know how all that stuff works, but hopefully we can be up in our locker room and have the music playing and kind of get a vibe and hopefully L.A. comes and packs the stadium out. I mean, just playing in the Super Bowl regardless.”
The Rams had lost six in a row to San Francisco but washed that all away Sunday with a 20-17 victory that secured them a spot on the NFL’s biggest stage. The Rams will be the second team to play the Super Bowl on their home field after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did so a season ago.
In the earlier game Sunday, the Bengals denied the Kansas City Chiefs a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl with a 27-24 upset at Arrowhead Stadium.
Photos from the Rams’ 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
Both teams had to overcome big deficits. The Bengals were down 18 points before rallying to win in overtime. The Rams trailed in the second half, 17-7, before clinching the win with 13 unanswered points.
That set up a showdown between two teams led by quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall, Stafford and the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, and two head coaches who used to work side by side.
Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor was an assistant wide receivers coach in Sean McVay’s first season with the Rams, then quarterbacks coach on the 2018 Rams team that lost in the Super Bowl to New England.
“Great resilient team,” McVay said of the Bengals. “It didn’t look good for them, and they’ve just continued to show why they’re a mentally tough outfit. I think that’s reflected by their head coach. I know what a great coach he is.
“They’ve done a great job this year. We’ve crossed over with them a little bit but I’m looking forward to diving into the tape and figuring out how we can put together a good game plan to try to see if we can finish this thing off.”
On Sunday, Feb. 13, at SoFi Stadium, the Rams will play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. Think about that. It’s flat-out unreal.
One of the players who voiced a resounding recommendation for Taylor was Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Bengals and last five in Los Angeles.
“Without a question, a little piece of me is still there with them,” Whitworth said. “And then obviously here and everything I’ve given to this place. It’s a situation I didn’t dream of ever getting to do, so it’s going to be such a cool, unbelievable moment.”
Cincinnati is 0-2 in Super Bowls, losing to the 49ers at the end of the 1981 and ’88 seasons.
Boomer Esiason was Cincinnati’s quarterback in the second of those, when Joe Montana directed a 92-yard drive in the final three minutes, throwing the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
In a text Sunday night, that former Bengals quarterback compared the current one to another NFL great.
Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 20-17 victory over San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday — scoring and statistics.
“Burrow’s got some [Tom] Brady-like tendencies,” Esiason wrote.
Burrow has two outstanding receivers in rookie Ja’Marr Chase — his former teammate at Louisiana State — and Tee Higgins.
But the Rams have two star receivers of their own who played huge roles in getting them this far. Cooper Kupp, who made a strong case for this season’s NFL most-valuable-player award, scored both touchdowns for the Rams on Sunday. And Odell Beckham Jr. made nine catches against the 49ers, several of them critical.
Asked about Stafford, Beckham said: “It’s everything you would hope and wish for. He had that look in his eyes all game. He motivated us. He pushed us. One play at a time. He drove us down. And he’s been doing that all postseason. All season, really, since I’ve been here. He’s had that look on him. Just happy that we could get him to this point.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.