No Super Bowl rematch vs. Rams. Bengals ‘just need a win’ after 0-2 start

CINCINNATI — Germaine Pratt was quick to shut down any talk of this week’s game against the L.A. Rams being a “Super Bowl rematch,” but the first meeting of the teams since that 2021 championship game brought back unpleasant memories from that disappointing loss for the Cincinnati Bengals.

A win Monday against the Rams (1-1) at Paycor Stadium won’t make up for that missed opportunity in Super Bowl LVI. It would help the Bengals turn the corner from an 0-2 start.

“It ain’t no Super Bowl rematch,” Pratt insisted. “We don’t got the same people, they don’t got the same people. It’s two years ago. We gotta focus on us getting the win. You’ve got to watch some of that game film (from the Super Bowl) to see some plays, how they attacked us, but it’s been two years. I can’t let that affect me. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, nah. We just need a win.”

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said he tries not to think about that Super Bowl loss, but it was impossible not to this week. The Bengals have been studying film from that game to help better understand the Rams’ schemes and how they attacked or defended against them.

The teams have seen turnover in personnel two years later, so it’s not all relevant, but still helpful.

“It’s the last time we played them and so we’ll study that and what they’ve done and, you know, see what was good, what was bad, and, and go from there,” Anarumo said. “I know, just the run defense in that particular game, they didn’t do anything productive. We were really stout that night, so we’ll have to get back to that for sure and then don’t give up any explosives. That’s the key.”

The tape is probably more helpful for the defense studying the Rams offense in terms of the personnel because Matthew Stafford is still slinging the ball as what cornerback Mike Hilton called a future “Hall of Fame” quarterback.

Los Angeles’ top two wide receivers from that Super Bowl matchup won’t be on the field, including Cooper Kupp because of injury, but tight end Tyler Higbee returns, and rookie Puka Nacua have filled nicely for Kupp. Nacua has caught 25 passes in his first two games. Nacua missed practice Thursday because of an oblique injury, though, and his status is unclear.

“They still do what they do, but that’s a big up for (Rams coach Sean) McVey,” Hilton said. “He schemes his guys open and finds ways to get them the ball to make plays and when you have a Hall of Fame quarterback that can make all the throws, it makes it a lot easier. We expect a lot of bootlegs and a lot of eye candy on their offense so we’ll be ready.”

Hilton said even with some different players on the field two years later, the Rams feel familiar simply because coach Zac Taylor worked under McVey in L.A. prior to joining the Bengals in 2019, and they operate similar systems and share a lot of the same philosophies in their coaching styles.

The Bengals also saw the Rams last preseason and for two joint practices, which didn’t end well when emotions boiled over into a brawl. Hilton believes those feelings are in the past. Both teams are coming off losses and looking to rebound on Monday Night Football.

Tee Higgins said this is a game the Bengals have to win to help as they try to get back to the Super Bowl this season, but he hopes he personally plays as well as he did in Super Bowl LVI when he had four catches for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in the 23-20 loss.

“It was a great game,” Higgins said. “I feel like if we would have won it, I probably would have been MVP, but it is what it is. They ended up getting the best of us. Hats off to them, but hopefully we can give it to them this week.”

Higgins’ performance could be impacted by quarterback Joe Burrow’s availability. He was limited in practice Friday after not participating Thursday, but Ja’Marr Chase told some media members he didn’t think Burrow was playing and the fact he was riding around with owner Mike Brown on a golf cart wasn’t a good sign.

Jake Browning would be starting in Burrow’s place, and the Bengals signed Reid Sinnett to the practice squad Friday to replace Will Grier, who was signed to New England’s active roster. Sinnett, who was with the Bengals in training camp when Burrow went down with the initial calf injury July 27, would back up Browning in the case Burrow is not active Monday.

The Rams have a lot of different personnel defensively, especially on the back end, but offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the scheme is still the same under Raheem Morris, who was also in that position in 2021. That’s why he finds the tape from Super Bowl LVI to be useful, on top of film from the first two games. He’s not expecting a ton of changes schematically.

Asked what differences he notices in the Rams since 2021, Taylor said he doesn’t see a lot of “major tweaks.”

“(No.) 99 (Aaron Donald) still plays and you still see him on the tape,” Taylor said. “They do a great job with the personnel that they’ve got. They put them in really good positions and they do a good job of complementing their schemes. I think they’re really well-coached. I got a lot of respect for the guys they got playing over there on defense. They do their job and they all do it well. It’s a really difficult challenge.”


Rams at Bengals, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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