Bengals defense ‘rattled’ on Rams’ game-winning drive

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Chidobe Awuzie said the L.A. Rams had the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense “rattled” on their late game-winning drive in Super Bowl LVI. Penalties that helped the Rams push forward might have played a part in that, but the Bengals struggled with their up-tempo offense in the final five minutes.

Cincinnati was clinging to a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, so the Rams had to score a touchdown to win. They drove 72 yards on 15 plays and got the go-ahead score on Matthew Stafford’s 1-yard pass to Cooper Kupp for the 23-20 win Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

The Bengals offense had 1:25 left to at least send the game to overtime and fell short.

“We fought,” Awuzie said. “Obviously, we gave up a touchdown that we wish we could have gotten back. It wasn’t even the touchdown. It was really that whole drive. We just kind of were rattled. Our heads are still high, we know who we are. Compliments to them, they made a lot of great plays when they had to.”

Los Angeles converted a fourth-and-1 from their own 30-yard line with about five minutes left, then went no-huddle and moved into the red zone just before the two-minute warning.

On third-and-goal from the 8-yard line Logan Wilson broke up a pass to the end zone but was flagged for holding, giving the Rams the first down and moving them half the distance to the goal.

Stafford found Kupp in the end zone on the next play, but he was called for offensive holding. Vonn Bell came in with a hard hit at the same time and was flagged for unnecessary roughness, negating the play with the offsetting penalties.

Eli Apple then was flagged for defensive pass interference to move the Rams to the 1-yard line and two plays later Kupp had the winning score.

“Cooper came up to me and tried to push off of me, and I thought I made a good play on the ball and the refs saw otherwise, so, it’s a tough call,” Wilson said.

A pool reporter from the Pro Football Writers Association of America asked questions of referee Ronald Torbert but did not inquire about any of the penalties that went against the Bengals.

“It’s tough,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said when asked about that penalty. “I thought it was a really well-officiated game to be quite honest with you. And sometimes it comes down to moments like those. I didn’t have a great look at it, but I thought the officials did a nice job.”

Taylor was disappointed the team had made it that far and not been able to finish it out with one last stop or one last score.

The Bengals had won their first two playoff games with interceptions on the final defensive play and got another one in overtime of the AFC Championship to set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. Cincinnati had held the Rams to a field goal through the first 28 minutes of the second half and won the turnover battle with two interceptions earlier in the game.

“They went a lot of tempo and obviously there was six minutes left when they got the ball,” Awuzie said. “They were going on the ball, they were going fast, and we weren’t really able to capitalize like how we always do. We built a great foundation as a defense, and I’m real confident that next year and years to come this defense will continue to get better. I’m just really proud of how we fought. Not one play defines that game and I know people will point fingers in the media and do stuff like that, but it’s a collective effort always. Yeah, I just love playing with these guys and I’m excited for the future.”

Awuzie had intercepted Stafford on the Rams’ first drive of the second half, allowing the Bengals a chance to add to a 17-13 lead on the ensuing drive, and Jessie Bates had a pick late in the first half at the goal line as L.A. was trying to extend its 13-10 lead going into halftime.

Taylor said he thought that two turnovers would have been enough to win the game.

“That was huge,” Taylor said. “Wining the turnover battle like we did should have allowed us to win that game. It was just unfortunate that it didn’t play out. I thought the defense -- played like they have all season man. They did everything they could to get it done. Gave us some good field position, we just couldn’t put together enough drive to score points. But really proud of the way those guys played.”

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