What We Learned from Super Bowl LVI

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(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Helmets of the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals , accompanied by the Lombardi Trophy, sit on top of a podium during a league press conference at SoFi Stadium on February 9, 2022, prior to Super Bowl LVI.

Derek McLeod, Staff Writer

On February 13, 2022, Super Bowl LVI took centerstage at SoFi Stadium as the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Los Angeles Rams battled for the Lombardi Trophy. After a back-and-forth game that saw momentum swing repeatedly, it was the home team Rams who captured their second championship in team history with a triumphant 23-20 victory. With this year’s big game in the rearview mirror, it is time to look back at a few things we learned from the NFL’s 56th annual Super Bowl.

Aaron Donald has Cemented His Legacy Forever.

Since the defensive tackle’s initial days as a member of the Rams in 2014, Donald has been, without question, the most dominant defensive player of his generation. Boasting three Defensive Player of the Year awards, 2014’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and seven First-Team All-Pro selections, Donald can finally cross that lucrative Super Bowl Championship off his checklist. As expected, against a porous Bengal’s offensive line, Donald and company took full advantage of the mismatch as the Rams registered a Super Bowl record seven sacks on Bengals’ superstar QB Joe Burrow.

With a three-point lead and 1:25 left in the game, Donald did what he does best: wreck gameplans and win games for the Rams. Donald’s 3rd and one-stop were critical, setting Cincy up with a dangerous 4th and one situation. Of course, who else but Aaron Donald put the pressure on Burrow, twirling the young QB to the ground as his desperation pass hit the ground, securing the championship for LA.

It is fitting that the NFL’s most dominant force was the one to get that crucial stop on the biggest play of the season. With two sacks and numerous QB pressures (mostly while enduring double-teams), Donald’s domination on the biggest stage redeems his lackluster Super Bowl performance against the Patriots three years earlier. With a Super Bowl championship to pad one of the most stacked resumes in football today, Aaron Donald can now stake his claim as, potentially, the greatest defensive player in NFL history when all is said and done.

The Stafford-Kupp Connection Is Inevitable

The LA Rams pulled the trigger to acquire the then Detroit Lions quarterback, Matthew Stafford, last offseason. The Rams made it clear that they were all-in on winning a championship. What they did not anticipate with the arrival of Stafford was for him to have such a strong connection with the Rams’ number one receiver, Cooper Kupp. On the final drive of the game, with number two receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out with an ACL injury, Stafford & Kupp put on a masterclass in game-winning drives,  with Kupp catching four passes on the drive and securing the game-winning touchdown catch on Bengals’ CB Eli Apple, who was torched all game long. Kupp secured Super Bowl MVP honors, totaling eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns, as well as a crucial 4th and one run to keep LA’s game-winning drive alive.

Matt Stafford and Cooper Kupp are unlike anything else in the NFL. When games come down to the wire, the entire world knows where Stafford is going with the ball. The only issue? It does not matter because Cooper Kupp is coming down with that thing. As a result, Kupp caps off one of the greatest receiving seasons of all time, and Stafford capitalized on his first opportunity to win a Super Bowl after 12 seasons in Detroit.

Burrow, Bengals Will Be Back

The Cincinnati Bengals shocked everybody by getting to this stage. The scrappy underdogs forged their path to the big game by beating teams that were objectively better than them, taking out the #1 seed Tennessee Titans and the juggernaut that is the Kansas City Chiefs, outdueling Patrick Mahomes and co. to reach Super Bowl LVI.

Joe “Shiesty” Burrow captivated NFL audiences with his ability to stay poised in the most significant moment of games and effortless swagger. Alongside rookie WR and former LSU college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals were the NFL’s biggest surprise of the season, reaching heights unexpected by analysts alike.

The Bengals gave the Hollywood Rams a fight down to the wire, but their offensive line was their Achilles heel this entire campaign. Thankfully, it is nothing a couple of draft picks and free-agent acquisitions can’t solve to equip Burrow with the tools needed to be the NFL’s next poster boy. While the Bengals fell short this year, expect them to reload next season and entrench themselves as a permanent threat over the next decade.

The Rams Gambled… and Won

The 2021-22 Los Angeles Rams have no secret about their intention to load up and go all in. Led by GM Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay, midseason acquisitions Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. pushed the Rams over the edge in the NFC, alongside veterans like Donald, Stafford, Andrew Whitworth, and Jalen Ramsey looking to cash in on a Super Bowl victory.

Many have criticized the Rams, primarily for gambling on Stafford, a player who had rotted away on awful Lions’ teams for years. Without a first-round draft pick until 2024, the Rams window to win was now, capitalizing on the primes of Kupp, Donald, and Stafford. The Rams spent their way into heaven, but after this season, can you say they made the wrong move? The “Rams way” worked, and they have a Lombardi Trophy to show for it.