The respect for Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay continues to grow.
It’s not just because the Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, to win Super Bowl 56 Sunday night, but the way he handled his team throughout the season and playoffs was admirable.
Critics will say McVay, 36, should have won a title because owner Stan Kroenke traded away their most important draft capital to bring in superstar talents like quarterback Matthew Stafford, outside linebacker Von Miller, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but there’s a history of teams doing this and failing miserably.
McVay brought in a disruptive personality like Beckham and still got significant production out of him, which shows he can reach a player’s soul. Earlier in the year it seemed like only a matter of time before the Rams imploded — they went 0-3 in November — but they never did.
Instead, their star players always came through in crunch time. It happened here in Baltimore on Jan. 2 when the Rams pulled out a 20-19 victory, and again Sunday night as Stafford led Los Angeles on a game-winning 79-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp with about 90 seconds remaining.
Before then, the Rams had only 52 yards of total offense in the second half. But on this last drive, Stafford, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns, just dinked and dunked his way down the field. Besides the game-winning touchdown, Kupp had four catches for 39 yards on the last drive. The game might not have been decided so late if Beckham Jr. didn’t leave the game with a knee injury in the second quarter. He had two catches for 52 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown catch in the opening quarter.
On defense, tackle Aaron Donald dominated the second half, finishing with four tackles and two sacks. His final play sealed the game, as he spun quarterback Joe Burrow around and ensured his fourth-and-1 pass fell incomplete with 43 seconds left. Von Miller ended up with two sacks, but like Donald turned up his game in the second half when the offense struggled.
Again, there will be some who say any coach with reasonable knowledge could have won with this team, but the NFL is no longer just about X’s and O’s. The Rams won in that area, as McVay went no-huddle to control the pace and keep the Bengals in soft zone coverages. Los Angeles also devised a way to free up Donald one-on-one along the line of scrimmage and the same with Kupp in the slot late in the game.
But coaching is also about building a culture, developing chemistry, controlling social media and being able to motivate. The last concept isn’t always easy when it comes to high-maintenance players who make $20 to $40 million a year and demand the ball and the spotlight.
McVay made it work in Los Angeles.
Donald should have been MVP
Kupp was named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player and few will disagree after he caught eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, but the award should have been given to Donald.
Not only is he the best defensive player in the game, but the best player in the NFL.
Cincinnati had to block him on almost every play with two, sometimes three linemen. Think about it: That’s more than 900 pounds of humanity coming at one player consistently throughout the game, and Donald still wore them down by the end of the game. The last six Super Bowl MVPs have gone to offensive players, four to quarterbacks.
This award is starting to become like the Heisman Trophy where the best college football player is usually a quarterback, running back or receiver. But if you really want to know who the best player on the field was, go ask the Bengals’ offensive linemen.
Burrow needs protection
The biggest chuckle of the night was listening to NBC broadcasters discuss the dilemma the Bengals face during the offseason. Should they draft more explosive offensive players or offensive linemen?
Let’s see: The Bengals allowed 55 sacks during the regular season. They gave up nine in the divisional-round win against Tennessee and seven against the Rams Sunday night. They have perhaps the best young quarterback in the NFL and there is debate if he needs better pass protection?
School’s down and out
I feel bad for the kids in Cincinnati. Schools were closed Monday so there are going to be a lot of unhappy kids sitting at home crashing toys into walls.
Actually, I feel worse for the parents because some of them have to stay at home with their children. Only in Cincinnati would such a thing occur, but that’s because the Bengals had not been to a Super Bowl since 1989. The future looks good, though, with Burrow and young players like receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
I wonder what the thinking is over at The Castle these days. In the past, the Bengals were good for two divisional wins a year. This past season, they blew the Ravens out twice. The Ravens might feel as low as the parents and school-aged children in Cincinnati.
Raheem Morris’ future
It will be interesting to see if Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris draws any interest from NFL teams as a possible head coach in the future.
Besides being the Rams’ first-year coordinator, he was with Tampa Bay as a defensive quality control assistant when the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. Morris, who is Black, has been a head coach in the NFL before, compiling a 21-38 record in five seasons in Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
But in both of those situations, he became a late replacement or interim in unsettled situations where the previous head coaches either quit or were fired for various reasons.
The knock on Morris, 45, is that he becomes close to the players, likes to socialize with them too much.
That’s a no-no for any coach on any level. He should be old enough to know better now.
No calls, no problem
Bengals fans are already complaining about those late pass interference calls on their team on the final Rams offensive drive. They are saying the referees got too involved after letting both sides be physical in the first three quarters.
Rules are rules. Cincinnati got the no-call of the game when Higgins clearly interfered with Ramsey, tossed him to the ground by his facemask on a 75-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second half.
Cincy folks need to stop whining; just go take care of your school kids.