Sports

Did blatant missed penalty lead to makeup call?


Super Bowl LVI wouldn’t’ve felt complete without at least one Matt Stafford to Cooper Kupp touchdown. After all, the pair lit up the NFL on a weekly basis in Stafford’s first year with the Los Angeles Rams.

Their storybook season was capped with a dramatic championship win Sunday in their home stadium over the Cincinnati Bengals and Kupp was named the game’s MVP after catching a pair of touchdowns from Stafford, who was acquired one year ago in a blockbuster trade with the Detroit Lions.

Suffice it to say his instant chemistry with Kupp made his transition to Hollywood a relative breeze.

Kupp won the receiving triple crown in the regular season, was named the league’s offensive player of the year, and caught 25 of 32 targets for 386 yards and four touchdowns as the Rams took down the Arizona Cardinals, the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the playoffs.

The 28-year-old unanimous All-Pro finished Sunday with a team-high eight catches, 10 targets, 92 yards and two touchdowns. His scoring plays will be replayed for years to come but Kupp’s statline doesn’t reflect just how clutch he was late for the Rams.

Kupp rushed for a crucial first down on a 4th & 1, forced several key penalties and caught four passes for 39 yards plus the game-winning touchdown on L.A.’s final drive alone.

The Bengals’ defensive unit was relentless against the run, limiting L.A.’s three running backs to just 30 yards on 19 combined carries and that success limited play-action opportunities. Overall, the secondary made Stafford’s job difficult and disguised coverage well. They picked him off twice but at the end of the day there’s only so much they could do to limit a player who just completed one of the all-time great WR seasons.

What elevated Kupp’s Super Bowl LVI performance from memorable to MVP-calibre was the fact he stepped up and became more effective after Odell Beckham Jr., left the game late in the second quarter with a non-contact knee injury – the same left knee Beckham required surgery on when he tore his ACL in 2020 with the Cleveland Browns in a game against the Bengals.

Beckham was signed by L.A. in November after an ugly split with Cleveland and had finally carved out a key role in this Rams offence. OBJ had 19 catches on 23 targets for 236 yards and one score in the playoffs and before his injury had two catches for 52 yards and caught the game’s first touchdown.

Anyone watching the game could sense immediately the deflating effect his injury temporarily had on the Rams. They initially looked discombobulated without Beckham. Stafford had completed 10-of-12 passes to that point but after Beckham went down he missed two of his next four passes and threw an end-zone interception to Jesse Bates III.

Between no Beckham, and the fact tight end Tyler Higbee was placed on injured reserve, there was even more pressure on Kupp to step up in the third and fourth quarters and he did exactly that.

Improbably, Sunday’s game marked the second consecutive year in which a team won the Super Bowl in their home stadium. It was also another year that saw the league’s oldest player hoist the Lombardi Trophy, only this time it was someone other than Tom Brady. Rams leader Andrew Whitworth, the first 40-year-old in NFL history to be a starting left tackle, spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Bengals.

DID BLATANT MISSED PENALTY LEAD TO MAKEUP CALL?

The momentum had already started shifting in favour of the Bengals before halftime with the Beckham injury. Then, quarterback Joe Burrow went yard to Tee Higgins on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Higgins didn’t burn Jalen Ramsey in coverage, though, and Ramsey was seen looking to the officials as Higgins crossed the goal line. That’s because the replay showed Higgins clearly turned Ramsey around by grabbing his facemask as the ball was in flight.

Facemask? Offensive pass interference? It was a missed call plain and simple.

That play weighed heavily on the outcome as the fourth quarter wound down and tensions rose with each snap in a one-score game.

Stafford led a Rams drive that started at their own 21 and after the two-minute warning it was third and goal with the ball at Cincinnati’s eight-yard-line. The Bengals were two plays away from winning but a flag for defensive holding was called on Logan Wilson after the linebacker seemingly made a textbook coverage play against Kupp.

Former VP of NFL officiating Mike Pereira said after the game he didn’t think the penalty against Wilson should’ve been called.

That call was followed by two more penalties before Stafford eventually found Kupp in the end zone. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rams fans have become somewhat accustomed to getting these breaks in the playoffs. If you remember, the Rams also benefitted from a controversial late call (or non-call) in the 2019 NFC Championship after Nickell Robey-Coleman’s infamous non-PI call against the Saints.

Of course, the hold on Wilson isn’t the only reason the Bengals lost, and Rams fans can credibly point to the non-call on the long Higgins TD and call it a wash.

RAMS D LINE WREAKS HAVOC IN SECOND HALF

It was the primary strategic storyline heading into the game. Could Cincy’s o-line limit the efficacy of L.A’s d-line and, if so, for how long? Turns out the answer was less than four quarters.

The Bengals protected Burrow rather well in the opening half before some adjustments from Rams defensive co-ordinator Raheem Morris had his players buzzing over the final 30 minutes.

L.A. started running more stunts with Von Miller off the edge. Burrow had more to think about and less time to make his reads. The Rams registered six of their seven sacks in the second half. Aaron Donald and Miller each finished with two sacks while Leonard Floyd, A’Shawn Robinson and Ernest Jones added one apiece.

PODIUM-WORTHY PLAYS

In honour of the ongoing Olympics, below are three Super Bowl LVI plays worthy of a medal.

Donald’s ‘Ring me!’ sequence
Cincinnati was two first downs away from comfortably being in field-goal range but Donald made perhaps the most important defensive play of the game. It was 3rd & 1 near midfield with 48 seconds remaining in regulation when Samaje Perine took a handoff to the right and sprinted forward. Donald shed his block, grabbed the 240-pound Perine and dragged him down to the ground before he reached the line to gain. A phenomenal display of strength and technique even by Donald’s elite standards.

The very next play, Donald sealed the deal for his team when he swiped his way through the interior of the o-line and came close to his third sack of the game when he wrapped up Burrow and forced an incompletion on fourth down. Donald more or less singlehandedly ended that final Bengals drive and, more importantly, didn’t allow the Bengals the opportunity to have rookie Evan McPhereson send the game to overtime.

‘Mixon’ in some trickery
Cincinnati used deception effectively on its first touchdown when Joe Mixon took a toss from Burrow and found Higgins in the end zone. It was just the fifth time a non-QB has thrown a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl and the first since Trey Burton and Nick Foles connected on the Philly Special four years ago.

It was the first pass Mixon had attempted in his five-year NFL career. The Rams tried to return the favour with a trick play of their own later in the game and ran but Kupp couldn’t connect with Stafford.

Chase’s sprawling grab
Ja’Marr Chase capped his outstanding rookie campaign with a five-catch, 89-yard performance in the Super Bowl. He was held out of the end zone but did manage a highlight-reel one-handed grab in the opening quarter while he was being defending closely by Jalen Ramsey.

MISSED EXTRA POINT IMPACTS BETTING MARKET

The anthem length went over, the coin toss landed on heads, and Sean McVay was doused with blue Gatorade. There was no shortage of bets to make on the big game but Super Bowl LVI bettors likely had one specific play in mind when all was said and done – gripes regarding various calls or non-calls notwithstanding.

A botched hold from Johnny Hekker on the extra point attempt following the Rams’ second touchdown greatly impacted the spread, which mostly toggled between Rams -3.5 and Rams -4.0 all week. Depending on where and when you bet the line, that missed point either turned a win into a loss or push or vice versa.

The game finished under its 48.5-point total. This is certainly in line with how the Bengals played this season. With the Bengals covering they ended up 9-3 against the spread as an underdog this season and 7-1 ATS specifically as a road underdog. Unders went 9-3 this season when Bengals were the underdog, including in the Super Bowl.





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