Le Pays De France - Rams out to spoil Bengals script in Hollywood Super Bowl

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Rams out to spoil Bengals script in Hollywood Super Bowl
Rams out to spoil Bengals script in Hollywood Super Bowl

Rams out to spoil Bengals script in Hollywood Super Bowl

A star-studded Los Angeles Rams team will seek to deny the giant-killing Cincinnati Bengals a Hollywood ending at the Super Bowl on Sunday as the NFL season reaches its climax.

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The first NFL championship game of the post-Tom Brady era sees the Rams play host at their gleaming $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium against a Bengals side chasing a first Super Bowl crown.

Around 100 million Americans are expected to tune in for the biggest annual event on the US sporting calendar, which kicks off at 3:30pm local time (2330 GMT).

At the heart of a perfectly scripted season finale is a duel between two talented quarterbacks playing in the Super Bowl for the first time.

For the Rams, veteran Matthew Stafford has the chance to finally cash in on his prodigious talents after spending 12 seasons with the hapless Detroit Lions before securing a blockbuster move to Los Angeles last year.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are led by the precocious Joe Burrow, who bounced back from a horrific knee injury that ended his rookie season in 2020 to carry Cincinnati to a first Super Bowl appearance since 1989.

A Bengals win would also mark the culimination of one of the most striking turnarounds in NFL history.

Last season, the team finished with four wins and 11 defeats, only slightly better than their 2019 campaign, which ended in a dismal 2-14 record. Not for nothing were they ridiculed as the "Cincinnati Bungles."

- Joe cool? -

But under head coach Zac Taylor, and buoyed by the arrival of No.1 draft pick Burrow in 2020, the Bengals have become a team transformed.

A dogged, never-say-die approach characterized their post-season campaign, which saw them shock AFC top seeds Tennessee before another upset on the road over mighty Kansas City sealed their Super Bowl berth.

That win over the Chiefs epitomized the quality of the battle-hardened unit forged by Taylor, as well as the remarkable sangfroid of Burrow.

Down 21-3 at half-time, the unflappable quarterback calmly led the Bengals to a 27-24 overtime win.

While the 25-year-old Burrow delights social media with his penchant for cigars, flashy jewelry and fur coats, this week the Bengals star has sounded laser-focused on the task before him.

"You've got to take advantage of your opportunities when you get there," Burrow said. "You see guys who go their whole career without ever getting to the Super Bowl.

"So when you do get there you have to hunker down and take advantage of those opportunities."

Whether Burrow is afforded the time and space to craft another Bengals upset is another question altogether, however.

A porous offensive line allowed him to be sacked a whopping nine times during the playoff win over Tennessee.

That is a stat that the formidable Rams defense, led by the human wrecking ball Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the NFL, and veteran pass rusher Von Miller, will have taken note of.

- Home advantage -

On the offensive side, meanwhile, the Rams have more than enough weapons to puncture the Bengals defense.

The 34-year-old Stafford, playing in his fist Super Bowl, has an array of targets to aim for, including Cooper Kupp, the best wide receiver in the NFL this season, and Odell Beckham Jr., the charismatic former New York Giants and Cleveland Browns receiver who has flourished since joining the Rams in mid-season.

As well as enjoying home advantage, the Rams also have the benefit of having recent Super Bowl experience.

Many members of Sunday's line-up were on the losing side when the Rams were beaten 13-3 by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2019.

That loss proved a chastening lesson for Rams coach Sean McVay, who admits now to being outfoxed by New England counterpart Bill Belichick.

Still only 36, McVay believes he is wiser for the experience.

"I think as a competitor, you have to be able to handle those tough moments," McVay said.

"I'll never run away from the fact that I didn't do a good enough job for our team within what I feel is like my role and responsibility to these guys."

The Rams will also be playing in front of a packed 70,000 crowd, while the traditional half-time music concert will feature the likes of Eminem, Mary J.Blige and hip-hop icons Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar.

The capacity crowd also contrasts with last season's Super Bowl in Tampa, where attendance was limited to around 25,000 fans due to Covid-19.

While the Omicron variant surge is in retreat in Los Angeles, authorities require all attendees on Sunday to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test, with masking mandatory.