Jimmy Garoppolo throws it away, setting up a Rams vs. Bengals Super Bowl

by Saurav Tewari, Sports Columnist

The San Francisco 49ers were beating the Los Angeles Rams 17-7 in the third quarter on Jan. 30 in the National Football Conference Championship, seemingly destined to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. Then came an inexplicable comeback, and the Rams scored 13 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to punch their ticket to the bowl game.

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo performed underwhelmingly, going 16/30 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His struggles were evident in the final two drives, where he went one for six for negative yardage and threw an interception. Garoppolo looked panicked play after play as he desperately searched for an open man downfield while chased by a disruptive Rams’ defensive line. And then he threw the game-sealing interception, a painful reminder of the repeated dangerous throws he has made all season — it was as if he had thrown the game away. And if you think I’m being harsh on Garoppolo, just remember: the 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Divisional Round on Jan. 22 because of defense, special teams and run game led by wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Garoppolo spent much of the game panicking and threw a wildly underthrown pass to George Kittle in the redzone that was ultimately intercepted. It’s fair to say the Jimmy G era is now over in San Francisco. There are too many liabilities with the injuries, frequent subpar performances and dangerous plays. Luckily for the 49ers, backup quarterback Trey Lance looked promising in his two starts this season.

As the 49ers season crumbled and Rams fans rejoiced, news surrounding Tom Brady’s retirement quickly took the NFL by storm last Tuesday. In an Instagram post following the Buccaneers’ 30-27 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Brady cited wanting to spend more time with his family as a leading reason for his decision.

Brady is considered the greatest quarterback of all time, having won seven Super Bowls and five Super Bowl MVPs. He led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl last season at the age of 43 and has continued performing at an elite level despite his advancing age. This year, Brady finished the regular season as the NFL leader in passing yards and touchdowns, beating out other players nearly half his age and signaling that he could still compete with the NFL’s best. While I would love to see Brady hit the field next season and try to win another championship, he’s already left his mark on the game. One of his craziest accomplishments is that he has more Super Bowl rings under his belt than any other team and player. You heard that right: what Tom Brady accomplished in 22 seasons was more than what franchises have in 56 years.

While the Rams’ talent is hard to deny here, it’s difficult not to jump on the Cincinnati bandwagon. I predict the Bengals will finish their Cinderella season and take home the Lombardi Trophy.

— Saurav Tewari

The Buccaneers’ crushing defeat to the Rams in the Divisional Round on Jan. 23 meant that Tom Brady wouldn’t attend his tenth Super Bowl. Instead, the underdog Cincinnati Bengals, who finished the season 10-7, will face off against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on Feb. 13 in Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals need their secondary to show up in a big way on Sunday night against an elite Rams receiving core led by Cooper Kupp (who has been practically impossible to guard all season) and Odell Beckham Jr., who caught nine passes for over 100 yards against the 49ers. 

The Rams are poised for a Super Bowl victory here with their star-studded lineup, but this game will test them following a narrow victory over the 49ers. Burrow worked magic in the pocket against the Chiefs. He was sacked only once, escaping defensive pressure in critical moments. However, this playoff version of Burrow is far different from the regular season, where he was sacked a league-leading 51 times in the regular season. The offensive line simply cannot allow a collapse, especially against a defensive line led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller. 

While the Rams’ talent is hard to deny here, it’s difficult not to jump on the Cincinnati bandwagon. I predict the Bengals will finish their Cinderella season and take home the Lombardi Trophy. At the quarterback position, Burrow has performed better than Stafford throughout the postseason and needs to get rid of the ball quickly and efficiently. On the defensive side, look for the Mike Hilton and Cooper Kupp matchup. Kupp hauled in 11 receptions for 142 yards against the 49ers, so Hilton and the Bengals defense need to make sure he doesn’t have the same opportunities this game.