The 56th edition of the Super Bowl continued the recent trend of an ultra-competitive game. For those as old as me, it will be remembered that Super Bowls were -- more often than not -- blowouts, and less-than-enjoyable games. Indeed, in the 21 games played between 1981 and 2001, there were 16 games decided by 10 points or more. But since 2002, when the Patriots upset the 14-point-favored-Rams, we've been treated to largely entertaining games. And in only 1 of the last 21 seasons has the favorite in the Super Bowl won by more than 11 points. And that was when the Colts defeated the Bears by 12, as a 6.5-point favorite.
The Bengals played a mistake-free game, which was just the 22nd time (out of 112 teams) that a team played a perfect game from a turnover perspective. Now, for certain of those 22 teams, their opponent also committed 0 turnovers. That happened in Super Bowls 25 (Giants 20, Bills 19), and 34 (Rams 23, Titans 16). So, that leaves us with 18 teams that didn't commit a single turnover in the Super Bowl, while their opponent committed at least one turnover. Coming into this Super Bowl 56, those mistake-free teams had gone 17-0 straight-up!
Even worse for Cincinnati: it held the Rams' to just 43 yards on 23 rushing attempts, for 1.86 yards per rush. And never before had a Super Bowl champion garnered less than 2 yards per rush.
So, what went wrong for Cincinnati to not allow it to win the game?
The most glaring statistic was the Bengals' 1-for-3 number on 4th-down conversions, while the Rams were 1-for-1 in that same situation. And both Bengals' misfires came at critical junctures in the game.
With five minutes gone in a scoreless first quarter, the Bengals faced 4th and 1 at the Rams' 49-yard line. Coach Zac Taylor elected to go for it, rather than attempt to pin the Rams deep. QB Joe Burrow's short, right pass to WR Ja'Marr Chase, though, fell incomplete. And the Rams took full advantage by marching down a short field for a 7-0 lead.
Cincinnati did convert a key 4th down in the 3rd quarter when Burrow scrambled for four yards on a 4th-and-1, and that drive ended with a field goal to extend Cincy's lead to 20-13.
But the 4th down opportunities for each team on its final drive were difference-makers. Los Angeles faced a 4th-and-1 with five minutes remaining, down 20-16, and converted on an end-around to WR Cooper Kupp for seven yards. A little more than three minutes later, Kupp's TD reception provided the go-ahead score. Cincinnati still was in prime position to tie the game with a field goal, but couldn't convert a 4th-and-1 at the Los Angeles 49-yard line with 43 seconds remaining. The Rams' Aaron Donald was the key defender on that play, as he hit Burrow to cause an errant pass.
The defensive play by Donald was emblematic, as the Rams' pass rush was generally unstoppable. Not only did Los Angeles sack Burrow seven times (including six in the second half), but its pass-rush win rate of 82% was the highest pass-rush win rate of any team in a single game this past season.
That pass-rush statistic is why the Rams were eventually able to overcome a -2 turnover differential, and a 1.86 ypr to win Super Bowl 56.