INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Cooper Kupp said he had a vision as he walked off the field in Atlanta three years ago after the Rams lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
“I don’t know what it was, but there’s just this vision that God revealed to me that we were going to come back, we were going to be a part of the Super Bowl, we were going to win it, and somehow I was going to walk off the field as the MVP of the game,” Kupp said.
“I shared that with my wife because I couldn’t tell anyone else, obviously, what that was. But from the moment this postseason started there was just a belief every game. It was written already and I just got to play free knowing that I got to play from victory, not for victory.”
Whether it was preordained or not, the Rams did return to the Super Bowl, they did win, and the wide receiver was named MVP in a thrilling 23-20 comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Kupp’s outing capped one of the best seasons, not only for a receiver, but for any NFL player. He finished the regular season first in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and touchdown catches (16) — the Triple Crown for ball catchers — and on Thursday was named Offensive Player of the Year.
But Kupp was just as brilliant in the postseason. In four games, he caught a record 33 passes for 478 yards and six touchdowns. And in his MVP-winning performance, he finished with eight catches for 92 yards and two scores — the last the game winner — and ran once for 7 yards on a pivotal fourth down early in the Rams’ final drive.
Jerry Rice is the only other NFL receiver to accomplish winning the Triple Crown, OPOTY and Super Bowl MVP. But he needed multiple years, while it took Kupp just one season to accomplish the feat.
“They’re team awards,” said Kupp as he sat on the postgame podium with his youngest son on his lap and his wife and elder son off to the side.
An MVP case could have been made for Aaron Donald. The all-world defensive tackle notched two of the Rams’ seven sacks of Joe Burrow. He added three more hits, the last on the Bengals’ final play when he had the quarterback in his grasp before he threw the ball incomplete in desperation.
But Kupp was a fitting choice having caught the go-ahead touchdown. And he was as clutch as possible on the game-winning drive. It was his one carry, though, that was perhaps most crucial. With five minutes remaining, coach Sean McVay gambled on fourth-and-1 at the Rams 30.
“Sometimes you just go with a gut feel,” McVay said. “I felt like that based on the way they had played some of those short-yardage situations that Kupp would have a chance to circle the defense.”
McVay did what he had done countless times throughout the season: He got the ball into the hands of his best offensive player in a big spot. Kupp took the jet sweep handoff 7 yards and the Rams were in business.
“They defended it really well, but it was a great player making a great play,” McVay said. “We don’t make that play, we’re not sitting up here.”
But there was still plenty of work left to be done. Kupp had a catch for 8 yards and then his longest for 22 yards — on a no-look Matthew Stafford pass — advanced Los Angeles to the Bengals 24. Two plays later, the Rams were at the 8. But two incomplete passes by the quarterback followed.
On third down, though, the Rams went back to Kupp over the middle. The Bengals hadn’t committed a penalty on defense up until that point, but linebacker Logan Wilson was flagged for holding.
A play later, Stafford found Kupp in the end zone. The receiver took a vicious hit from Vonn Bell and held on. The safety was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the Rams were called for holding and the penalties were offset.
Kupp was the target again on the next play — a sprint out — but cornerback Eli Apple grabbed his jersey and another yellow hankie hit the turf. Stafford was then stopped short on a sneak at the goal line, but McVay got wise and dialed up Kupp’s number again on second down.
Stafford threw a fade, Kupp looked back with Apple all over him and pulled in the pass to pull the Rams back in front, 23-20, with 1 minute, 25 seconds left.
“Eli Apple had been playing me pretty well the entire game, really came up and challenged me,” Kupp said. “Cover zero, you’ve got that inside leverage and I just tried to weave to his leverage, make him move in a little bit, jab him one time, and give Matthew some room to put the ball wherever he wanted to.
“He made a great back-shoulder throw.”
Said McVay: “It felt like it was about 60 plays for us to be able to finally get that one in on the fade. Cooper Kupp is the man.”
Kupp was stifled for a long stretches, though, especially after receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown) left in the second quarter with a knee injury.
“It was tough,” Stafford said. “They played a bunch of man coverage and were doubling Coop on every third down. We just missed on a few plays here and there that could have been huge for us.”
To offset the double coverages, McVay said he went up-tempo on the final drive to force the Bengals into more zones. All told, Kupp caught four passes for 39 yards and a touchdown on the 15-play, 79-yard drive.
The Bengals had plenty of time and three timeouts to score. They got to midfield, but running back Samaje Perine was stopped for no gain on third-and-1, and on fourth down, Burrow had no one open and when he started to scramble, Donald dragged him down.
A wild celebration ensued. Kupp said he didn’t think much about his own personal journey as confetti rained down on him. He received no scholarship offers during his high school career and played at Football Championship Subdivision program Eastern Washington.
Kupp set all kinds of receiving records in his four seasons there, but when the draft rolled around he lasted into the third round partly because of concerns about his speed, or lack thereof.
“I don’t have any regrets or feel any grudge toward anyone,” Kupp said. “I’m just thankful for the path that I’ve been on.”
But Kupp’s precise routes, his football knowledge, and his toughness aren’t measurable. He would encounter further obstacles. In his second season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in November and missed the Super Bowl.
He was there when the Patriots held the Rams offense to just three points, though, and the devout Christian said he had his vision of his Super Bowl future as he left Mercedes-Benz Stadium following that defeat.
“It was as clear as day,” an emotional Kupp said. “I walked off the field, I turned around before walking back through the tunnel, and it just hit me. It was as clear as I can see you [reporters] here now.”
Maybe God was there with Kupp that day. And maybe just having Kupp here on Sunday was ultimately what put the Rams over the top.