Now that the NFL season is officially over, it’s time for an overreacting, way-too-hot, bordering-on-silly article with my takeaways from Super Bowl LVI. Being a sports fan is oftentimes as much about letting out negative emotions as it can be about celebrating victory. I will leave the latter for ESPN.
In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, I wanted to start this article with the line: “The Rams and their zero fans, with the help of the refs, managed to beat the Cinderella story Cincinnati Bengals.” After cooling off a bit, I realize this is a bit of a homer take, but I cannot shake the feeling that the Rams are certainly not the best team in football: their run to the championship consisted of beating a terrible Cardinals team, nearly blowing a lead to the Bucs, and being one dropped interception away from losing to the woeful 49ers. Despite their home field advantage at the Super Bowl (shoutout St. Louis), the stadium was packed with Cincy fans (alongside the usual bunch of random Hollywood-based celebrities). The Rams once again tried desperately to lose but were unable to come up short. Matt Stafford was his usual fraudulent self, tossing interceptions left and right and being praised by the commentators for his prodigious ability to pass it to the best wideout in the league, as if Bengals cornerback Eli Apple now owned and operated Revis Island.
Maybe this is harsh, but who wasn’t rooting for the Bengals? My housemate is from LA and told me that his Rams fandom had started two hours prior to the game; he is likely one of the most faithful followers of the team. Sean McVay, the coach of the Rams, will now get the “genius” label from everyone despite another somewhat brutal game plan. The running game was inept and the Rams offense looked stale even while being loaded with superstars. The commentators kept looking for ways to praise McVay, but after each three and out, their wonder boy looked increasingly alarmed on the sideline. This is only a mere three years after Belichick baffled McVay by using zone coverage in the Super Bowl. Revolutionary.
McVay was saved by Zach Taylor—ironically his former mentee—who stood on the opposing sideline. With three downs to get just one yard, Cinci’s offense pulled their star running back and took deep shots. I guess they didn’t deserve to win either. Taylor was aggressive in the first quarter, going for a pointless fourth down, and then managed the clock poorly before halftime, giving the Rams a chance to score. Joe Burrow, the Bengals’ franchise quarterback, was allowed to get annihilated by the Rams defense. They ended with seven sacks, tying the Super Bowl record.
The impressiveness of this sack total is mitigated when you consider the complete ineptitude of the Cincy offensive line. The Titans, whose defense is far from the steel curtain, also managed to sack Burrow seven times in the divisional round! Aaron Donald running around the field pointing to his ring finger after cheap shotting players all post season was the perfect image from this boring championship team to linger in my head .
The officiating also needs to be talked about. While this is often an overplayed storyline, after only calling four fouls all game, the refs called four penalties in the final two minutes, including one particularly egregious holding that negated a clutch third down stop for Cincy, that, in all likelihood, would’ve won them the game. Quite simply, it was *cough cough* as rigged a game as one can remember *cough cough*. Rams fans will be quick to point out a missed facemask on Jalen Ramsey that led to an earlier Cincinnati touchdown, but not all penalties are created equal. To miss penalties is one thing, but to call them on legal football plays completely ruins the fan experience. Donald should have run to the refs and proposed at the end of the game. They are the ones responsible for his fake ring.
As a Patriots fan with admittedly just a tiny, small bias towards Cincy, it was a disappointing end to a lackluster game. With stagnant offenses and inauspicious champions, this Super Bowl will be quickly forgotten. It’s a shame because this postseason has seen some awesome games, from the 49ers beating Green Bay to a memorable showdown between the Chiefs and the Bills. These four teams all felt like more worthy Super Bowl champions. The only silver lining to come out of this disappointing game was that I can finally say that Matt Stafford is better than Aaron Rodgers, at both football and not contracting COVID-19.
John Vernaglia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.