LOS ANGELES — Aaron Donald and Von Miller were able to keep the Los Angeles Rams within striking distance of capturing their first Super Bowl championship in 22 years.
The Rams sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow six times during the second half. With Burrow and the offense unable to muster any consistency during the final 18 minutes, the Rams bounced back from three straight three-and-out possessions on offense with Matthew Stafford’s 1-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp late in the fourth quarter for a 23-20 victory Sunday night.
Cincinnati’s offensive line did a good job protecting Burrow during the first quarter, allowing only one pressure on his nine drop-backs. But the Bengals pass blocking problems returned during the remaining three quarters when he was pressured on 16 of 32 drop-backs.
Burrow ended up being sacked seven times. It was the third time this season, and fourth time in 30 games over his two-year career, he has been sacked seven or more times.
“They have a really good front. Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd are three of the best players in the league and we expected they were going to get some pressure,” Burrow said. “I think they did a good job.”
After Evan McPherson’s 38-yard field goal gave Cincinnati a 20-13 lead with 10:15 remaining in the third quarter, Burrow was sacked four times on his next 11 drop-backs. Donald and Miller each had two sacks during the final 30 minutes.
Right guard Hakeem Adeniji struggled the most against the Rams’ pressure, with three sacks allowed after halftime.
Donald said that the Rams remained confident despite having only one sack in the first half.
“I feel like we started taking over the game when we needed to as a defensive front,” Donald said. “It’s a team game, it’s a team sport and it’s not just one or two out there. It’s all 11 on the field that at any time was making a big play for us. We found a way to come away with a win and become a world champion and that’s what it’s about.”
Donald had seven of his eight quarterback pressures during the second half, including on a fourth-and-2 from the Rams 49 with 43 seconds remaining when Burrow couldn’t complete the pass to Samaje Perine as he was being harassed by Donald.
“When it was the fourth down, you could see they got into the shotgun and they were probably not going to run the football. I said Aaron’s going to close the game out right here,” coach Sean McVay said.
Miller is the first player in Super Bowl history to record multiple sacks for two teams. He had 2 1/2 with Denver in Super Bowl 50 in 2016 and was the game’s MVP.
Miller said it wasn’t a matter of making any great speech at halftime, it was just sticking to the game plan.
“We kept doing the same things we had been doing all season,” said Miller, who also had six quarterback pressures. “We fought through adversity all season long. Just continued to take it one play at a time. We believed in our rush, believed in our process, believed in our teammates and it worked for us.”
Burrow was sacked 70 times this season, including 19 times in the four postseason games. He suffered a knee injury during the game and said afterwards that he would get further evaluation when the team returns to Cincinnati on Monday.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he would have to evaluate where the issues in the pass breakdowns occurred.
“In the second half, we called some passes and it got difficult,” he said. “Everyone is just going to say it’s the offensive line — we have to see how exactly that played out. Don’t ever want a quarterback to get hit, but that’s life in the NFL sometimes.”
Besides Burrow’s health, the biggest question going into the offseason is Donald’s future. The defensive lineman just completed his eighth season and said throughout the postseason that the only thing missing in his career was a Super Bowl title.
Donald said he was just trying to enjoy the championship before making any decisions about next season and beyond.
“It means everything. This organization drafted me eight years ago to have an opportunity to help bring this here,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to be a world champion, I’ve been saying that for the past few years. To finally get the opportunity to feel this, be living in it right now, this time, this moment — it’s hard to put it in words right now.”