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Rams role players step up on NFL’s biggest stage

Brycen Hopkins among under-the-radar players who stepped up in Super Bowl win over Bengals

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

“All the word’s a stage”, according to William Shakespeare and there’s none bigger in football (or on TV) than the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Rams flipped the script on the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20, coming from behind to win in the last 90 seconds.

The Rams biggest stars shone brightly in Super Bowl LVI. Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp showed why they are at the top of the celebrity A-list, but in this West Coast matinee, the supporting cast gave an award winning performance that brought depth and context to the final act.

Tight end Brycen Hopkins- “...wherefore art thou?...”.

No one saw this one coming. Hopkins was pressed into full-time service because of starting TE Tyler Higbee season-ending knee sprain in the NFC Championship game and Kendall Blanton’s early Super Bowl departure with a shoulder injury.

On Super Sunday, Hopkins hauled in all four passes thrown his way, gaining 47 yards and tallying two first downs. He opened the Rams 16-play game-winning drive with a nine yard grab and five plays later moved the sticks on a 3rd-and two throw from Rams QB Matt Stafford.

Hopkins was activated to the game day roster only five times during the season totaling 59 offensive snaps and 26 on special teams. He was inactive in NFL Championship win over the San Francisco 49ers, got 10 snaps (nine on ST) in the divisional win at Tampa Bay, and mopped up 11 offensive plays in the wildcard win over the Arizona Cardinals. His season-long numbers? One catch for nine yards.

This was not the first LA Rams Super Bowl win witnessed by Brycen Hopkins. As a toddler, he watched his father, Brad Hopkins, lose to the “Greatest Show on Turf” in the 2000 game.

Cornerback David Long Jr.- “To be, or not to be...”.

Long did not give up a completion in the second half and for the game, he allowed three catches for 11 yards. Four tackles are a modest amount, but two of his stops were at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

2021 was a roller coaster season for Long. He started the season getting around 75 percent of snaps at cornerback, but in week four he was burned for a long touchdown in the loss to Arizona. After that, the Rams auditioned, what seemed to be, everyone on the roster to fill the cornerback position. During this period, Long had a pair of games where he played almost all defensive snaps, but their was four others where he played less than 15 percent.

When the playoffs began, Long’s snaps went up each game. Against the Cardinals, Buccaneers, and 49ers, he allowed less than 30 yards receiving per game and a quarter back rating of 41.6 against him. He had an interception return versus the Cards for a touchdown.

Inside linebacker Ernest Jones- “I am young, but something...”.

In a Super Bowl full of big defensive plays, Jones had two of the biggest. First, on their opening drive of the game, the Bengals took over after a mediocre Johnny Hekker punt. A quick pass had Cincy at mid field where the Rams stiffened. The Bengals decided to go on 4th and one and up stepped Ernest Jones. Rotating with the flow of the play, was able to knock down the pass. Capitalizing on the change in momentum and good field position, the Rams scored the games opening touchdown six plays later.

Jones second big play came in the third quarter after the Bengals had taken a 20-16 lead. Cincinnati had tallied points on their first two drives of the half and looked to expand the Rams deficit to two scores. On a 2nd and six play, Bengal QB Joe Burrow dropped back to pass, Jones came on a delayed blitz up the middle and recorded the sack. Cincy’s momentum was squelched and they would not threaten to score for the rest of the game.

For the game Jones had seven tackles, six unassisted, the sack, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and a pass defended. It was a welcome return for the rookie, third round draftee after missing four games with a high ankle sprain, including the two opening playoff wins over Arizona and Tampa Bay.

Bringing down the house lights and closing the final curtain

For the Los Angeles Rams, Super Bowl LVI had all the earmarks of a Shakespearian tragedy. Flawed heroes, difficult choices bordering on good and evil, fate and fortune leading to near destruction, revenge, and finally, redemption. Bravo, a brilliant show.