Super Bowl 2022: Rams’ Sean McVay wins the chess match vs. Bengals’ Zac Taylor | Izenberg – NJ.com

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Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, left, talks with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor after the Rams defeated the Bengals in the NFL Super Bowl 56 football game Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. AP
They had played 55 Super Bowls before they kicked off No. 56 on Sunday. For 55 years they certified heroes and goats … blowouts and nail biters … tunes of Glory and unfinished symphonies.
But not this time.
I attended the first 53 Super Bowls and what I saw for the first dozen or so was two teams not playing to win but, for at least a half, two teams playing not to lose. Caution stunk out the stadiums. Because of that those early games brought a kind of whispered shame to the losers.
Well, that’s long gone now. We have had a lot of drama and a lot of mystery. A lot of superstars and a lot of total failures. But Sunday gave us a new way to appreciate both the winner and loser.
Sunday’s 100-yard vespers gave us something we rarely see — a tribute to what head coaches and their coordinators try do every week of every season. But don’t always do it as well. More than you think, the stakes, the distractions of Super Bowl week and the human failure of the second-guessers get in the way.
But not this time.
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What the Los Angeles Rams did in the final two minutes was pure football poetry. What the Cincinnati Bengals did during most of the preceding 58 minutes was a tribute to trench warfare. Between them they gave us a guided tour into the effort of the best plans for the best weapons they had.
What made it so fascinating in retrospect is the clear fact that the Rams had the better players. The Bengals were riding an almost inexplicable hot streak engineered by a quarterback whose pro experience was limited to a tad more than a single season.
Under those circumstance the fact that this became a life-and-death struggle without a foreseeable ending until the final minute is a credit to both coaching staffs. That said, then, this is an unabashed tribute to them. Each had faith in its game plan. Each did not abandon them when the other guys turned up the temperature.
For openers, an objective opinion reinforces the notion that the Rams had a big talent edge. The free-agent signings hinted at what was coming and the trade for Matthew Stafford turned a football team that was once a Rubik’s cube into a team of destiny. Their performance bears that out.
Stafford was the engineer. Cooper Kupp was the hero. He caught two touchdown passes including the game-winner — a one yard touch pass over the reach of defender Eli Apple. That capped a 15-play, 79-yard drive that took 4:48 off the clock and left the Bengals with fewer than two minutes to try to recover.
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The result aside, the two coaching staffs, their game plans, their coolness under pressure and the effectiveness of each side made textbook models out of them. Start with the losing Bengals. They had the biggest mountain to climb.
Over the years they have been abysmal. When the season started the coach, Zac Taylor, had terrible choice to make. The scoreboard showed their most recent efforts at an horrendous 6-25-1. The defensive was lousy under Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Tayler knew one more year of that and he was gone with the wind.
Fire Anarumo and at least he’d buy one more year.
Taylor made his choice based on his gut feeling. Anarumo had coached at The Merchant Marine Academy, Marshall, Syracuse, Purdue and the Giants and the Dolphins before Cincinnati. Sink or swim, he still believed that his nomadic veteran had the knowledge he needed for one more shot.
He decided they would face the hurricane together.
He was right.
The three of them Taylor, Anarumo and the offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan, fine-tuned what they had — an effort similar to raising the Titanic and for all but two minutes on Sunday they did a brilliant job. Having Joe Burrow, the wunderkind among all young quarterbacks, certainly helped as well.
As for the Rams, Sean McVay was his own work in progress. When the Rams hired him, he became the youngest head coach in the history of the modern NFL. In 2018 he took them to the Super Bowl and lost — big-time — to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. He was beaten 13-3 with the lowest Super Bowl final score. McVay blamed himself. He learned. He put together a new team with a new approach.
Both sides were as good as they could be on Sunday and you can’t ask for more than that. It’s why the Rams, who were better, won and the Bengals lost with their honor intact.
Jerry Izenberg is Columnist Emeritus for The Star-Ledger. He can be reached at jizenberg@starledger.com.
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