INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and coach Sean McVay are NFL champions.

ExploreThe AJC at Super Bowl 56

Stafford guided the Rams to a 23-20 victory over the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI before 70,048 fans on Sunday in the big game’s return to the Los Angeles area in the $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium.

“It’s probably going to take some time,” Stafford said after reaching the game’s highest pinnacle in his 13th season in the league. “I’m going to have to think about it. I know that in the moment, I didn’t know what to think. I was just a little emotional and so happy to be a world champ.”

The former standout at Georgia tossed a back-shoulder fade to wide receiver Cooper Kupp with 1:25 left to play for a touchdown and a three-point lead. The touchdown capped a 15-play, 79-yard touchdown drive on which Stafford was 7-of-11 for 57 yards.

The Rams benefited from a holding call against Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson on Kupp and a pass interference call against cornerback Eli Apple on Kupp to give them a first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 1.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” Cincinnati cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said. “They threw a good punch there, and we weren’t able to rally. We got to third-and-1, and I thought Logan made a good play on the ball.”

In a season where playoff games have been spectacular, the Bengals were closing in on field-goal range in the final minute when Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald nearly sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on fourth down to seal the win.

“I think we started taking over the game up front when we needed it,” Donald said. “We’re world champions.”

The Rams finished with seven sacks, which tied the Super Bowl mark that was set by Denver in Super Bowl 50.

The Bengals were not able to protect Burrow as he attempted to pass and had become one dimensional in their attempt to hold a fourth-quarter lead. A dropped pass by wide receiver Tyler Boyd on third down with just over six minutes to play didn’t help.

With the game on the line, Stafford came up big in his first Super Bowl appearance.

“On that final drive, I think Sean did an unbelievable job of letting us go out there and play with a bunch of tempo,” Stafford said. “So many guys stepped up. Coop obviously had some huge plays, and the game-winner was just icing on the cake.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates after LA defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates after LA defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Combined ShapeCaption
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates after LA defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Stafford completed 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Kupp, who was named the MVP, finished with eight catches for 92 yards.

It wasn’t a vintage showing by Stafford, who had a passer rating of 89.9.

“It was tough,” Stafford said. “They played a bunch of man coverage. They were double-teaming Cooper on every third down. We just missed on a few plays here that could have been big plays for us.”

McVay, who played at Marist and Miami of Ohio before getting into coaching, became the youngest Super Bowl champion coach in NFL history with the win at 36 years and 20 days old. He thought picking up the pace with the game on the line was best for Stafford.

“Yeah, we have a lot of trust in him,” McVay said. “You wanted to put the game in one of your best player’s hands. The guy that you feel like has led you to where we were able to get in this position.”

“You want your guy to have the ball when it matters the most, and that’s what we did with Matthew. He delivered in a big way, and that’s why he’s a world champion.”

Here are five things we learned from the game:

1. Ramsey attacked. The Bengals didn’t back away from the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, who is considered one of the league’s top lockdown cornerbacks.

The Bengals took their first lead when wide receiver Tee Higgins beat Ramsey up the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown in the first 12 seconds of the third quarter.

There was some contact on the play, but no penalty was called.

In the first quarter, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase got behind Ramsey and made a nice catch on a deep ball for a 46-yard gain down to the Rams’ 11-yard line. The drive stalled, and Bengals kicker Evan McPherson added a 29-yard field goal to make it 7-3.

Chase finished with five catches for 89 yards, and Higgins had four catches for 100 yards.

2. Rams’ sack attack. The Rams sacked Burrow seven times.

While leading the Bengals to the AFC North title, Burrow was sacked a league-leading 51 times for minus-370 yards during the regular season. In the playoffs, Burrow was sacked 12 times entering the Super Bowl.

Donald and defensive end Von Miller led the charge with two sacks each.

3. OBJ’s knee injury. Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught the first touchdown of the game, left the field with a left leg injury with 3:50 left in the second quarter.

Midway through the third quarter, he was declared out for the reminder of the game.

Beckham missed a pass from Stafford and went down to the turf while grabbing his left leg. After a few minutes, he got up with the help of trainers and walked off the field.

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Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay holds the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 56 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay holds the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 56 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

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Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay holds the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 56 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

4. Bengals’ red zone. After the interception by Awuzie in the third quarter off Stafford, the Bengals stalled in the red zone.

Donald had a big sack on third-and-3 from the Rams’ 11 for a loss of 7 yards. The Bengals had to settle for a field goal to make it 20-13 with 10:15 to play.

The Bengals stalled on their third possession and had to settle for a field goal.

Their first success in the red zone came when running back Joe Mixon tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Higgins on a halfback option play. The hard-charging Rams rushed to Mixon and left Higgins wide open behind the defense to make it 13-10 in the second quarter.

5. Defense early. Both defenses started off strong.

Trey Hendrickson had a sack to help stall the Rams on their opening possession, and they were forced to punt.

The Bengals went for it on fourth-and-1 in the first half, but linebacker Ernest Jones, who played at Ware County High and South Carolina, broke up the pass play.

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