NFL

Super Bowl LVI: Kupp and Donald deliver championship for injury-hit Rams in LA

By Sports Desk February 13, 2022

Cooper Kupp capped a dominant season with two Super Bowl LVI touchdowns to guide the short-handed Los Angeles Rams past the Cincinnati Bengals in LA.

The Rams were heavily reliant on Kupp at their SoFi Stadium home after Odell Beckham Jr. was ruled out with a first-half knee injury, joining tight end Tyler Higbee on the sideline.

But the triple crown wide receiver had just enough to inspire a 23-20 win and deny the Bengals their first championship – with a little help from Aaron Donald.

Before Beckham went down, the Rams' superstar receiving talent had a telling impact, as their second drive ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to the former Cleveland Brown.

The Bengals could only come up with a field goal in response – Evan McPherson's record-breaking 13th consecutive successful conversion in a single postseason – and Stafford soon found Kupp for a fifth TD in four playoff games.

But the remainder of the first half did not play out nearly so smoothly for the Rams, who were pegged back by a career-first Joe Mixon pass – to Tee Higgins for a TD – and then lost Beckham to injury before Jessie Bates III picked off a deep Stafford pass in the endzone.

The Rams still took a three-point lead into halftime, yet that was gone within 12 seconds of the third quarter when an apparent foul by Higgins on Jalen Ramsey was not spotted, allowing the receiver to run in a 75-yard score from Joe Burrow's pass.

Burrow was quickly back on the field, too, as a Stafford throw bounced off Ben Skowronek – promoted in place of Beckham – and into the arms of Chidobe Awuzie for a second interception. Aaron Donald's second sack limited the Bengals to a McPherson field goal.

The Rams were also forced to settle for a field goal after Kupp overthrew a pass to Stafford as they ran the Philly Special, although some heavy punishment dished out to Burrow limited the Bengals' effectiveness on offense, giving Stafford one last drive with a four-point deficit.

After numerous penalties in the red zone, Stafford finally picked out Kupp for another TD, setting the stage for Donald to stall Burrow's reply and spark home celebrations.

Burrow on brand with big plays and sacks

Burrow's 51 sacks in the regular season set a record for any QB to start that year's Super Bowl, but he was largely kept clean in the first half – albeit he did not throw a TD either.

The second half was much more like what we have come to expect from Burrow and the Bengals' offensive line, however.

The NFL leader in passing plays of 50 yards or more (12 in 2021) added another with his TD pass to Higgins, although the controversy around that play – Higgins' hand grasped at Ramsey's facemask – appeared to contribute to a determined Rams response on defense.

Donald soon had his first sack and Burrow took seven in all, tying Roger Staubach's Super Bowl X record.

Kupp comes up trumps as only option

The reason for backing the Rams pre-game over the Bengals was their wealth of options, as evidenced by Beckham's early TD after a drive in which Kupp carried the ball into Cincinnati territory.

But when Beckham was ruled out, with Higbee and Robert Woods (two of five remaining Rams from their Super Bowl LIII defeat) already sidelined, Stafford turned his focus to Kupp alone.

This year's premier wideout was the target of a game-high 10 pass attempts and reeled in eight of them – another high – for 92 yards and those two decisive TDs.

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    The Bundesliga champions were eyeing an unlikely treble, with the DFB-Pokal final to come this weekend, but those plans came crashing down in a 3-0 loss to Atalanta.

    Ademola Lookman single-handedly powered Gian Piero Gasperini's side to their first title in 61 years, producing an individual performance for the ages with a decisive hat-trick.

    European heartbreak marked Leverkusen's first loss this season, with their last defeat coming to Bochum on the last day of the 2022-23 Bundesliga campaign, as Alonso's side were finally stopped.

    Yet the former Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder says nothing can take away from Leverkusen's memorable campaign.

    "For me the result today does not change one bit how I feel about my players or what we have been doing," the Leverkusen head coach told TNT Sports.

    "It hurts because we wanted to lift the trophy but you can't have everything. We lifted the Bundesliga and we have the chance to lift the DFB-Pokal on Saturday."

    Leverkusen are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same term since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

    "This season and achievements have surpassed all expectations," Alonso continued.

    "I was hoping and getting ready to maybe do something great but this has been so much more.

    "To achieve what we have for a club like Leverkusen is great. To be in the last week of the season having lifted the Bundesliga and then going for the Pokal too means a lot.

    "First year as a coach, it is going quite well!"

    A monumental occasion at the Aviva Stadium marked Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    Alonso was unsurprised by the excellence of Gasperini and his Atalanta side, however.

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    Gian Piero Gasperini and Ademola Lookman both cherished creating Atalanta history after ending Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten run and securing Europa League glory.

    Lookman produced a performance worthy of the most important European moment in Atalanta's history, securing the club's first-ever major trophy on the continent after his dazzling hat-trick.

    The Nigeria winger is just the sixth player to manage a treble in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

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    "I think we wrote history, also for the way we won it," said Gasperini, speaking to UEFA's official media channels.

    "It was just extraordinary, we defeated Liverpool, Sporting who won the championship. When we faced Liverpool they were first in the Premier League... And now the German champions.

    "Incredible. The boys were extraordinary, a memorable performance."

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    Ademola Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo after his hat-trick inspired Atalanta to Europa League glory, ending Bayer Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run after a 3-0 defeat in Dublin.

    Nigeria winger Lookman is just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup.

    His single-handed match-winning heroics secured Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    The records continued to tumble for Lookman, whose hat-trick was the sixth in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Having no response to a performance for the ages, Leverkusen suffered their first defeat since their final game of the 2022-23 season, ending a 361-day unbeaten run from last losing 3-0 to Bochum.

    Gian Piero Gasperini's masterclass will etch his name into Atalanta history, with the Italian – aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday – the fourth oldest manager to win a major European trophy.

    Only Raymond Goethals (71y 231d, 1993 Champions League), Heynckes (68y 16d, 2013 Champions League) and Alex Ferguson (66y 142d, 2008 Champions League), have done so at an older age.

    Owing to Gasperini's genius and Lookman's quality, Atalanta are the first Italian side to lift the Europa League trophy since its rebrand in 2009, with Parma in 1999 the last Serie A side to win the UEFA Cup.

    Alonso will hope to bounce back in Saturday's DFB-Pokal final but the Bundesliga champions are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same season since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

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