Matthew Stafford got the Super Bowl win the Rams thought he could deliver

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford makes a pass from the pocket.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws across his body during the first half of Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford took a knee on the SoFi Stadium sideline and was unsure what was transpiring on the field when coach Sean McVay came over to give him a congratulatory hug and the blue-and-gold-clad faithful among the crowd of 70,048 stood up and roared.

Aaron Donald had just pressured Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into a desperation heave on fourth down in the final seconds of Super Bowl LVI, the incomplete pass ending a drive near midfield and securing a 23-20 Rams victory.

“To be honest, on that last drive, I couldn’t watch,” Stafford said. “I didn’t even know it was fourth down. I looked over at [receiver Cooper Kupp], and he was like, ‘I didn’t know either.’ We couldn’t watch.


“How fitting for Aaron to do what he does. He’s been an unbelievable player, a Hall of Fame player, for so long. He’s done everything right for this team, and for him to do what he does on fourth down and win it means everything.”

The same could be said about Stafford and his 12 years in Detroit, where he racked up 45,109 passing yards and 282 touchdowns while enduring eight losing seasons and reaching the playoffs three times, losing all three wild-card games.

All the disappointment, frustration and losses with the Lions made Sunday all the more gratifying for Stafford, who was acquired by the Rams for quarterback Jared Goff and several draft picks last winter.

Stafford completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his first Super Bowl, and engineered a 15-play, 79-yard drive in the final 6 minutes, 13 seconds, his one-yard scoring toss to Kupp with 1:25 left giving the Rams a come-from-behind victory.

“I love playing this game for the competition, for the relationships, for the hard times, for the good times, all of it,” Stafford said. “This game can teach you so much. I get to go to work with people from all walks of life who come together and work for one goal.

“For 12 years, that goal wasn’t reached, and it tore me upside, but I knew I couldn’t complain, and I had to try to find a way. The fact that we reached that goal today is so special.”


Stafford completed seven of 11 passes for 57 yards on the final drive, including a 22-yard laser over the middle to Kupp. The touchdown came on a perfectly placed back-shoulder pass to Kupp on the right side of the end zone.

“A lot of trust in him ... you put the ball in your best players hands when it matters most,” McVay said. “That’s what we did with Matthew. And he delivered in a big way.”

Stafford called the last drive “special, one I’ll never forget ... just so many great plays by so many great players.”

And some good plays by guys most Rams fans barely know. Reserve tight end Brycen Hopkins caught two passes for 15 yards on the final drive and four catches for 47 yards in the game.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with his daughters on the field after winning the Super Bowl.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Stafford was nearly perfect in the first quarter, completing six of six passes for 56 yards and a 17-yard scoring toss on a corner route to Odell Beckham Jr., who outjumped cornerback Mike Hilton for the ball and a 7-0 lead.


Beckham also found a seam in the defense on a 35-yard catch over the middle to set up Stafford’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Kupp, which gave the Rams a 13-3 lead with 12:51 left in the second quarter.

But the Rams lost their momentum when Beckham suffered a knee injury and would not return. The Bengals bottled up Kupp, but there was no stopping him on that final drive.

“It was tough,” Stafford said. “They played a bunch of man coverage, and they were doubling Coop on every third down. We just missed on a few plays here or there that could’ve been big, and on that final drive, I thought Sean did an unbelievable job of letting us go out there and play with a bunch of tempo.”

An hour after taking a final knee, Stafford was still processing the victory.

“It’s probably going to take some time,” Stafford said. “In the moment, I didn’t know what to think. I was just a little emotional, and so happy to be a world champ. So happy to be a part of this group. I mean, that’s the biggest thing — it’s not me, it’s not any individual on this team. We’re a group.”

Fairy-tale finish

Eric Weddle suffered a right-pectoral injury that will probably require surgery, but the 37-year-old safety, who ended a two-year retirement to bolster an injury-ravaged Rams secondary on the eve of the playoffs, wasn’t feeling much pain.


Weddle, who was credited with five tackles, was a world champion, completing an improbable five-week transformation from car-pool dad and youth football team coach to Super Bowl winning defender.

Fans celebrate the Rams’ first Super Bowl victory in Los Angeles, a 23-20 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be able to have this moment because my career was done,” Weddle said. “Certain things had to happen for me to be here, and to finish it off the way we did is something out of a fiction fairy tale that you wish your name would be a part of it, and lucky me, I’m a world champion.”

As amazing as Weddle’s story is, there will be no sequel. “I’m re-retiring,” he said. “That’s pretty much set in stone.

No harm, no foul

Referee Ronald Torbert told a pool reporter that his crew “did not see any contact that warranted pass interference” on Bengals receiver Tee Higgins’ 75-yard touchdown pass to start the second half.


Higgins appeared to yank Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s face mask before leaping for the ball at the Rams’ 37-yard line. Ramsey fell and Higgins essentially walked into the end zone for a 17-13 lead.

“Our rule is if there is a grab and twist and turn, there’s enough for a foul,” Torbert said. “If there’s just a rake across the face mask, where there’s not a twist and turn even if there’s a grab, there is no foul.

Special delivery

Rams receiver Van Jefferson, who caught four passes for 23 yards, didn’t get to celebrate the win with his teammates.

His wife, Samaria, went into labor during the game and was rushed from SoFi Stadium to a hospital, where she gave birth to the couple’s second child.