The longest season in NFL history came to a close with the Los Angeles Rams crowned as champions after winning Super Bowl LVI over the Cincinnati Bengals.
While it might not crack our list of Top 10 Super Bowls of All Time, it was the tense ending we could have hoped for with the Rams taking a late lead after being on the ropes, then sealing the victory with a massive defensive stand.
It sealed their first Super Bowl win when known as the LA Rams and the franchise’s first since January 2000.
And with the confetti still falling from the rafters in SoFi Stadium, for one last time this year, we’ve got our top five takeaways from the NFL games.
1 – Aaron Donald Completes His Set
The best defensive player of the last decade, Aaron Donald got the one thing missing from his resume with a huge performance in his second career Super Bowl.
Having been selected to eight Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro First Teams and won defensive player of the year three times, there was no doubting his stature in the game.
He would have been the first to tell you that his performance in Super Bowl LIII was well below par but he more than made up for it here, ensuring that his postseason celebration was prophetic.
With the game on the line and the Bengals on the move at the Rams 49 yard line, Burrow threw an incompletion to Ja’Marr Chase on second down.
Then Donald decided it was game over, grabbing Samaje Perine before he could gain any ground and holding him in place to prevent him falling forward.
Left with no choice, the Bengals went for it on fourth down and Donald clinched the Super Bowl for Los Angeles.
The superstar came through in the big moment and didn’t he enjoy that.
2 – Stafford Gets His Moment
After toiling away in Detroit for 12 years, Matthew Stafford was traded to the Rams in late January 2021.
It was never talent that kept Stafford from living up to his status as the first overall draft pick.
Rather injuries, consistency and a supporting cast that at times was well below that of an average NFL club.
But in his first season with the Rams, which had its share of ups and downs, he got his chance to play on the biggest stage.
Naturally nothing came easy for Stafford in the game with the Bengals defence with their first possession coming to a halt with a punt.
On the next drive however, Stafford threw a beautiful ball to Odell Beckham Jr for a touchdown.
After another punt he hit Cooper Kupp for his second of the day.
Two of his next three times with the ball finished with the ball in the hands of a Bengals defender with a couple of bad throws.
That could very easily have been game over for LA but thanks to some help from the defence the damage was negligible.
After the teams traded field goals, and the next seven drives ended in punts, the Rams took over on their own 21 with a little over five minutes to play.
Time was running out and Stafford got them in position to get the go ahead touchdown including what appeared to be at least a partial no-look pass to Kupp over the middle.
Then, on the doorstep of taking the lead, as he has done all season, he delivered a strike to his favourite target make it 23-20.
When you think about it, this game provided the almost perfect encapsulation of Stafford’s career, with some great throws and some truly head scratching decisions.
Except this time he was able to end the season on the best note possible.
3 – The Temptation to Make a Kupp/Cup Pun Is Strong
That Rams receiver wearing number 10 is pretty good you know.
After going for 145 catches, 1947 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season, he somehow found another gear in the postseason.
Over four games, he caught 33 passes for 478 yards and six touchdowns including eight for 92 and two scores today.
It was a fairly quiet first half for him with just a couple of catches but when they needed a play, he was the one they went to.
Whether through the air or on the ground, he has just continually came through when his team needed him to.
For context, this is just how good his season has been.
And while there was a real case for Aaron Donald based on his final two plays, it was tough to deny Kupp the MVP award.
4 – The Bengals Have Work to Do to Get Back Here
It was a Super Bowl appearance that came out of the blue, and the Bengals can only look back at this season as a phenomenal effort that just fell short of the ultimate goal.
They went down swinging and will feel like they let that Super Bowl slip away, ideally using it as motivation for a return trip when the big game heads to Arizona in 12 months’ time.
History is not kind on the sides to reach the Super Bowl and lose, especially when they go down in disappointing fashion (not that there has been an encouraging defeat in a title game).
But it wasn’t all bad for Cincinnati, they had their moments including this Mixon to Higgins touchdown pass.
Followed by Higgins going to the house on the first offensive play of the second half.
However as the reviews and analysis continue, there’s a couple of reasons to worry about the long term viability of the team from south-west Ohio.
It seems unlikely that they will be able to sneak up on teams in 2022, with everyone well aware of what they are capable of.
Add in a loaded AFC where they will likely have to go through some combination of Kansas City and Buffalo, plus a plethora of next-tier down teams that will all be looking to improve and knock the Bengals off their perch, the path back is rocky at best.
And finally, the most concerning part of it all, they’ll need to find a way to keep Joe Burrow upright.
It’s a tale as old as time, you can have a turbo-charged offence but if you can’t block it will always come back to haunt you.
Burrow’s rookie season was ended early after a torn ACL and he continued to take a beating in the playoffs.
In the fourth quarter there was a nervous moment when Burrow limped off the field and fans started searching for the name of the Bengals backup.
Brandon Allen is not a guy who you would feel confident about leading a team to the playoffs, let alone in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
5 – It’s Time to Lie Down
And to wrap it all up, an admission that it is time for a rest after the best NFL postseason in history.
While the Wild Card round sucked in terms of competitiveness, there were some historic quarterback performances by the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
But the final seven games of the season were all decided by a touchdown or less with some of the most memorable finishes in league history.
So take a minute, enjoy the season and start studying to try and find the value play in the Super Bowl futures market.