INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Odell Beckham Jr. made his slow and agonizing walk back to the locker room with his eyes still on the field. He was watching the Los Angeles Rams offense he could no longer be a part of, seemingly willing it to continue its march downfield.
Late in the second quarter of Super Bowl LVI, something went wrong as Beckham reached for what would have been his third catch of the game. As he crossed the middle of the field, his left foot appeared to catch in the turf at the edge of the N.F.L. logo painted at midfield. Beckham immediately grabbed his left knee in apparent pain and tumbled to the turf. His teammates, concerned about the possibility of a non-contact injury, encircled him, and one member of the team’s medical staff patted his right leg as if to console him.
Beckham was helped to the sideline and into the blue medical tent before being led to the locker room by an athletic trainer who carried his helmet. Moments after Beckham disappeared from view, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford forced a throw to the end zone that was intercepted by Bengals safety Jessie Bates III.
But before Beckham left the field, he delivered the game’s first touchdown. He earned the 17-yard score with his release from Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton off the line of scrimmage. He then performed the moonwalk in the end zone. All signs pointed to a big night for the 29-year-old receiver, who followed a bumpy road to his first Super Bowl appearance.
The Rams offense at first seemed to stall with Beckham out, limiting Stafford’s options and allowing the Bengals to devote more attention to Los Angeles’s top receiver, Cooper Kupp. But the Rams rallied late in the game with a 15-play, 79-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kupp that sealed the 23-20 win.
Beckham tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2020 when he was with the Cleveland Browns. The team did not confirm the extent of Beckham’s injury after the game. Fellow receiver Robert Woods, who tore an A.C.L. in practice the same day in November that Beckham arrived in Los Angeles, said he spent some time alone with Beckham in the locker room after the team came out for the second half and held him.
“Being able to hold him and say, ‘I am right with you; I will be here every step, every rehab day,’ ” Woods said. “He’s a competitor. I know he will be back even stronger, and hopefully he is back with us.”
It had been a long journey for Beckham, now in his eighth season, to reach the Super Bowl. Before this postseason, the only playoff game he had played in was the Giants’ loss to Green Bay during the 2016 season after several players’ infamous boat trip to Miami.
Beckham became a rookie sensation with his one-handed catch against the Cowboys in 2014, but the Giants traded him to Cleveland five years after drafting him No. 12 overall. His tenure with the Browns was similarly turbulent. The team released him in early November after his father posted a video on social media expressing frustration with how his son was being used in the Browns offense, paving the way for Beckham to join the Rams.
The Rams initially thought Beckham would be a nice addition to their offense — yet another star on the team’s roster — but his role quickly became bigger than anticipated after Woods’ injury. Beckham
became a key offensive weapon as the team built momentum in its Super Bowl run. He contributed 113 receiving yards in the N.F.C. Championship Game against the 49ers, and he was shaping up to be a major part of the Rams’ game plan against the Bengals. On Sunday night, he had two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game.
The loss of Beckham, followed by Stafford’s interception at the end of the first half, was a devastating sequence that seemed to swing momentum away from the Rams. The start of the second half wasn’t much better: The Bengals immediately took the lead on a 75-yard touchdown, then Stafford threw his second interception on the next play. The pass was intended for Ben Skowronek, a player who would not have had as large of a role had Beckham remained in the game. The Rams fell behind 20-13 after that turnover.
As Beckham left the field, pain and disappointment were written all over his face. But while the Rams didn’t continue their march downfield at that moment, they eventually found a way. Stafford and Kupp somehow found space in the tight throwing windows made even tighter by Beckham’s absence. In the game’s final moments, TV cameras caught Beckham rejoining his team on the sideline, and this time he was crying.