Watching the confetti rain down in SoFi Stadium, seeing Aaron Donald in tears — it all brought me back to Atlanta in 2019. I was on the ground ahead of Super Bowl LIII when the Patriots were facing the Rams, and I was left with a profound regard for the Rams.
You never really know what to expect interviewing NFL players. A lot show huge disdain for reporters and the general hassle of being asked questions, which I totally get. The Rams were different. Their players were full of so much joy. Nobody expected to be in the Super Bowl back then, and they were just relishing the moment — having so much fun with every single aspect of the game, even smiling as I asked my dumb questions. It was impossible not to like those players, and while few remain from that team three years ago, Aaron Donald was so generous with his time that it was beautiful to see him overcome with emotion at the final whistle.
The Super Bowl was not perfect, and we’re going to get to why — but in many ways that felt like the perfect outcome. We got to see so many players who desperately deserved a ring, in what could have been their last chance — finally break through. It’s not just Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald or Odell Beckham Jr., who got the lion’s share of the headlines but Eric Weddle, whose commitment to the Chargers ate up the best years of his career. Or hell, what about Andrew Whitworth, the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year, who is so beloved by everyone who comes into his orbit that he’s held in high esteem, even by players who’ve never suited up with him.
I know today stings for Bengals fans, I’ve been there before too as I’ve watched my team lose — but the brightest days are yet to come. Cincinnati was two or three plays from becoming the Super Bowl Champions, all with a Swiss cheese offensive line and so many things going wrong. That was closer than anyone believed possible, and it’s a testament to what the Bengals have built in such a short time.
While the box score might not show the Bengals as winners, in the long run they’re better poised for success than any other team in the NFL. We’re going to see sustained dominance for YEARS to come, so long as this team gets Joe Burrow some protection. There’s so much to look forward to with this team, so much to be happy about, and in the end the Bengals played with more heart and determination than I’ve seen all season. I watched as my Panthers got blown out by the Broncos and struggled to show their potential, and THAT sucked. There’s no shame in losing when you put everything you have into football’s biggest game.
The Rams deserve so much credit. They really played through a ton of adversity. The loss of Odell Beckham Jr. right when he emerged as the game’s difference maker was huge, and then the Bengals took away their entire run game and made it moot. The Super Bowl turned into a two-man offensive battle, with Stafford and Cooper Kupp against the world — and they proved they had just enough in the tank to get across the line. This was seriously down to the wire, and for so much of the fourth quarter I didn’t know if they had enough to do it.
This was a team that had to dig deeper than it ever did. On their back foot, getting frustrated and chippy, the Bengals defense proved so much more of a challenge than they anticipated. In the end it was all about the steadying hand of Stafford and Kupp that got them across the line.
It was a phenomenal Super Bowl, to cap off an amazing season, with games closer than we could ever imagine and excitement at every turn. I will remember the 2021 season for being the most chaotic I’ve ever seen, and the Rams navigated those choppy waters better than anyone else.
Winners: The Rams and the Bengals
This is not a night to call anyone a loser, except for one group ...
Loser: The Super Bowl referees
Calls went bad both ways throughout the game, but I hate ridiculous inconsistency — and that’s the part that could tarnish the Rams win unfairly. For most of the game the refs decided they were just going to let things go and have both teams play.
They missed the blatant hold Jalen Ramsey pulled in the end zone to prevent a touchdown. Then they missed the huge facemask ON Ramsey by Tee Higgins that set up a huge gain. This felt tit-for-tat, and for much of the game it felt like they were just going to let these teams play. Until the Rams’ final drive.
The dramatic conclusion to the Super Bowl was marred by the refs getting incredibly flag-happy when everything was on the line, and calling penalties on plays they’d let go throughout the game. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Rams were good enough to pull it off anyway — but it put a bad taste in my mouth seeing how inconsistent they were being.
It wouldn’t be the NFL without at least one ref controversy, right?
Winner: Cooper Kupp
The Super Bowl MVP was every bit the most valuable player. I totally get arguments that it should have gone to Aaron Donald, who had an astounding game in his own right, but my final feeling on it all is that if Donald was out of the game I think the Rams depth could have still generated pressure.
If Kupp was out, I don’t think the Rams could have come back and won, at all. He was put in a situation where OBJ was out, he was on an island, and STILL managed to pick up the receptions and yards needed to carry an entire offense.
It was a stunning display of everything Kupp had done all season, and the MVP award was well earned.
Winner: Aaron Donald
No defensive player made more of an impact in the Super Bowl that Aaron Donald. He’s one of the best to ever do it for a reason. I know there have been reports of Donald potentially retiring while on top, which seems ridiculous — but I get it.
Every mountain has been climbed, every peak conquered. There is nothing more to prove in one of the best defensive careers we have ever seen. Donald will unquestionably be enshrined in Canton, and while selfishly I wish he’d keep going for my enjoyment, I totally get him wanting to go home and spend more time with his family.
Donald wrecked havoc in the inside, just as he’s been doing for most of his career. It was just great to see after he got so thoroughly stuffed the last time he was in the Super Bowl.
Winner: Joe Burrow
It takes so much guts to do what Burrow did in the Super Bowl. He didn’t play a flawless game, but he was damn-near perfect under the circumstances. Burrow played better than Stafford did, and was under so much more pressure.
The biggest sign for him being elite in the future is how the big moment didn’t rattle him, the sacks didn’t shake him — Burrow kept playing his brand of football, and almost got it done.
Mark my words: Burrow WILL be a Super Bowl champion one day, just not yet.
Winner: Tee Higgins
During a week where all the focus was on Ja’Marr Chase, it was the Bengals’ other elite receiver who really shined. Playing away from Jalen Ramsey allowed Higgins to eat, and he finished with 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Higgins probably would have been the MVP if the Bengals pulled out the win, so to ignore him now would be silly. This was a tremendous game, and like his teammates, the future is so bright.
Winner: The Super Bowl halftime show
On another note here, but that halftime show rules. For old dudes like me it was the perfect but of nostalgia that felt connected to the city, the moment, and did justice to everything we hoped it could be.
I hope the success of the show send a message to the NFL that they don’t need to keep sticking to their well-worn path of rock and pop music. There is room for hip hop, it can be effective, and it connects with an audience far more than other artists in 2022.
It was just great.
What an amazing postseason. What an incredible year. This season had everything, and ended on an incredible note. Football is good, and the future of the game is in good hands.