INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Even the star-studded Los Angeles Rams have a limit to the number of injuries they can withstand, and they were all but out of playmakers in the second half of the Super Bowl.
They still had Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, and they still had Matthew Stafford. They were enough to win a championship.
Los Angeles‘ 23-20 victory on Sunday night was a remarkable story of perseverance through injury setbacks that would have crushed most teams — including the Rams, if not for one final scoring drive catalyzed by Kupp and Stafford.
“Those guys just did a great job,” coach Sean McVay said. “They took over the game. … So many contributions. It’s about these players.”
The Rams played the fourth quarter of their home Super Bowl with rookies Ben Skowronek and Brycen Hopkins logging significant playing time. That’s because Odell Beckham Jr. went down with a knee injury in the second quarter, leaving the Rams to finish their final game without four of their top six pass-catchers by yardage from the regular season.
In their place, the Rams sent out their two rookies along with tight end Kendall Blanton, a borderline third-stringer when the season began. Running back Darrell Henderson, who hadn’t played since Dec. 26 because of an injury, was used extensively as a pass-catching target partly because the Rams had no other bodies to do it.
Improbably, they made it work: Stafford targeted Kupp repeatedly on the final drive, all the way to Kupp’s decisive TD catch with 1:25 to play.
“It just comes down to this team and they way we prepared, they way we loved each other, trusted each other,” Kupp said.
The Rams won the Super Bowl with nobody other than Kupp catching more than four passes. For an offense built on star power and variety of attack, this scenario probably wasn’t ideal for McVay — but the Rams made it work.
The Rams‘ lack of depth is an unfortunate side effect of loading the top of an NFL roster with big names and huge paychecks. When injuries hit the Rams this season, the depth players that they could afford were not up to the same standard.
The Rams lost Robert Woods, their steady veteran receiver, at midseason with a torn knee ligament. Right before that injury, disgruntled veteran DeSean Jackson asked to leave the team after just seven games.
Los Angeles then lost tight end Tyler Higbee to a knee injury in the NFC championship game, depriving Stafford of one of his most reliable targets. And then in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, Beckham fell to the turf holding his left knee without a defender near him.
The Rams‘ passing problems were compounded by their utter inability to run the ball — and McVay’s insistence on continuing to try. Los Angeles repeatedly ran first-down plays into the immobile line for setbacks and minor gains, but McVay continued to run it with Henderson, Cam Akers and Sony Michel.
Los Angeles had 23 rushing attempts for 43 yards — and it still won the Super Bowl.
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