Cooper Kupp delivers again, this time where it meant the most

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INGLEWOOD, California – The story we’re told about the Los Angeles Rams is that they “went all-in” to win this particular Super Bowl. That they were willing to mortgage their future for it. That what defines their team-building approach is the fact that they are constantly swapping first-round picks away for win-now helpers, you run the risk.

But as they were about to lose the Super Bowl to the Cincinnati Bengals, the guy who saved the Rams was the receiver they hit out of eastern Washington in the third round five years ago. And the guy who sealed the win was a first-round pick they made themselves in 2014.

Cooper Kupp caught eight passes on 92 yards and two touchdowns to win Super Bowl MVP honors when the Rams came back in the fourth quarter and beat the Bengals on Sunday night. Four of those catches, 39 of those yards and one of those touchdowns came on the 15-game fourth-quarter drive that turned a 20-16 Cincinnati lead into a 23-20 Rams win.

It was the signature drive in the career of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has had 45 career-winning games and who himself was one of the “all-in” moves the Rams made to win this year. But it was no doubt Kupp who saved them. His biggest play on drive was not even a catch – it was a 7-yard run from his own 30-yard line on fourth and 1st with five minutes left of the game. LA will almost certainly lose the game if they do not get that yard. Rams could not run the ball all night. So they put it in the hands of their best offensive player and he delivered.

“No matter what is asked of me, no matter what my job will be on a given game, in a given game, I will just do it to the best of my ability,” Kupp said. “We went up a bit in pace on the last ride, which held [the Bengals] in some zone calls, and that kind of allowed Matthew and I to somehow find some soft spots in there. “

Coup was the man Stafford watched over and over again, all season, having a game. What kind of year did Kupp have exactly? Well, he led the NFL in catches (145), received yards (1,947) and received touchdowns (16) for wide receiver “Triple Crown”. He was named Offensive Player of the Year. And he ended it with a Super Bowl MVP award. Only one other player – Jerry Rice, maybe you’ve heard of him – has ever done all three of these things in a career. Coup managed them all in one season.

“You hear me talk about ‘competitive greatness’ until I’m blue in the face,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “But it was on display tonight.”

Make no mistake: Rams was in trouble. They had a break of 13-10, but it did not last long. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow found Tee Higgins for a 75-yard touchdown pass in the first game of the second half. So on the Rams’ first offensive game of the second half, Stafford threw his second interception of the game and the Bengals turned it into a field goal. Cincinnati, who had shown just as toughness as any team this NFL postseason, suddenly had a 20-13 lead and stifled the Rams’ offense with his defensive line.

Los Angeles lost wideout Odell Beckham Jr. (another “win-now” pickup they made in November after the Browns cut him) to a knee injury in the second quarter. Star widower Robert Woods has been out since November due to a torn ACL. Tyler Higbee started on tight end, was inactive due to a knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game. The Rams ran for 43 yards on 23 carries in the game. They went three-and-out on three straight possessions after field goal that reduced the lead to 20-16. The Rams could not run it, and with virtually no other options in the passing game, the Bengals were able to focus all their attention on the Cup.



Matthew Stafford connects with Cooper Kupp for an 11-yard touchdown to fill the Rams’ lead.

“They made it really hard,” McVay said. “I have great respect for the Bengali defense. Once we got into the tight end [red zone] area, it felt like it was about 60 plays for us to finally be able to get it on barrels. Cooper Coup is the man. “

“It was hard,” Stafford said. “But he’s an incredible player and I’m just so proud of him.”

Oh, that was hard. The Rams had to get out of the Bengals to win this one, and they tightened up in the right places. Six of their seven sacks with Burrow came in the second half, including two by Von Miller and two by Aaron Donald, whose pressure from Burrow on the Bengals ‘last fourth-and-1 game helped force an incompletion and seal the Rams’ championship. .

Miller was also one of the Rams’ win-now moves. They sent second- and third-round picks to the Denver Broncos for him by the trade deadline, and he definitely made a difference. Miller had nine sacks over the Rams’ last eight games (four regular and four postseason games), and LA won seven of those games. Miller increased the passing rush in an intimidating way, but he also gave the Rams’ locker room to a player who had done this before. He was a Super Bowl MVP with a dominant performance against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers just six years ago, and a team that thought itself to be very good was able to lift itself to great with the help of one person with direct experience in this particular arena.

But for every glittering new acquisition, the Rams have a basic player who is their own. Anders was the Rams’ overall number 12 in 2014 at a time when they still used to pick so high in the round. The Rams will not win this Super Bowl without Anders taking over in the second half.

“It’s guys like Aaron why you train,” McVay said. “He has exalted all. I think the epitome of greatness is to make everyone you are around and every situation you are a part of better. That’s exactly what Aaron is doing. He’s F’in- the man.”

Donald was a first-round pick in 2014. Coup a third-rounder in 2017. Taylor Rapp, David Long Jr., Greg Gaines … all key defenders, all 2019 Rams draft picks. Brycen Hopkins, a fourth-rounder in 2020 who was to fill in for the injured Higbee, had four catches for 47 yards in the Super Bowl. Before Sunday, he had a catch in total in his NFL career.

So yes, despite all the talk of “pushing all their chips in”, these Rams owe this title just as much to the players they have drawn and developed as they do to those who just showed up. Although they have not made a choice in the first round since McVay got there in 2017 (and they do not have one this year either), they have made 45 choices in rounds 2-7, more than any team in the last five years besides Minnesota. Their current roster carries 29 of their own draft picks, a number that ranks in the top 10 in the league. Their strategy of building lists is much more nuanced than “they swap all their choices away with veterans.”

What they’re doing is swapping late first-round picks for guys who can help them now. As late as the Rams tend to pick in the first round, they still will not get players as they have grades in the first round. So why not use these choices instead of getting a Matthew Stafford or a Jalen Ramsey to help push you over the top?

“I’m really proud to be associated with a group that’s not afraid to shoot their shots,” McVay said.

However, what they are not telling you about that approach is that your team must already be good for it to work. Do you think the Buccaneers won last year’s Super Bowl just because they signed Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown? The Bucs had already built the foundation for a strong list before the guys ever got there. Heck, that’s the main reason Brady went there at all.

The Rams, when they traded for Stafford last winter, were already pretty good. They lost the Super Bowl just three years ago, have reached the playoffs in four of McVay’s five years and finished over 0.500 in all five of them. They took the step to Stafford because they felt it would take them from very good to championship caliber and the results will show that it did.

But Stafford can not do without Kupp being there to spoil his passes. Coup got 33 passes in four games this offseason, the most in NFL history. After finishing the regular season with the second most receiving yards ever, I have collected the second most receiving yards anyone has ever had in a single postseason: 478, after only Larry Fitzgerald. His six touchdown catches were second most in a single postseason. And his 22 total touchdowns this year, regular and offseason, are second most after Randy Moss’ 24 in 2007.

Coup is the emblem of who the Rams are and what they were before the “all-in” movements that got all the attention. He was injured three years ago and missed out on his team’s Super Bowl loss to the Rams, but he said Sunday night that after that game he had a vision that he would be on the winning end of the Super Bowl on a point in time. On Sunday, he made that vision come true.

“I just feel so undeserved at all these awards and accolades,” Kupp said. “I’m able to play from a place of freedom and I have good teammates around me.”

They are all, now, masters together. The rings that came in for this year, and the long-term men like Kupp and Donald, who built a strong enough foundation for these moves to pay off. These Rams could have been “all-in” for this year, but don’t be surprised to see them right back at the top again sometime soon. That, McVay & Co. has built here in LA, is nothing lightning fast. It’s one of the best, most consistent franchises the NFL has right now. And on Sunday night, he became Super Bowl champion.


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