With tears in his eyes, Aaron Donald stayed in the Lambeau Field band regretting an opportunity that escaped him.
That’s the enduring image of the Rams’ loss in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs to the Green Bay Packers last season.
“I just care,” Donald said this week when asked about his emotions that day. “That’s what it comes down to, I just care.”
Donald played that game with a rib injury that prevented the three-time NFL defensive player of the year from obstructing his opponents, in the same way that he has nagged his rivals for more than seven seasons.
The 30-year-old Donald has regained his strength and is eager to return to Lambeau Field on Sunday when the Rams (7-3) face the Packers (8-3) in a key conference game.
Does last season’s crushing loss (32-18) serve as motivation to play against the Packers again?
“A lot of things motivate me,” Donald said, “but you could say yes.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur joked that the thought of an extra-motivated Donald made him want to cry.
“This guy is a complete destroyer in the game,” LaFleur said Thursday during a video conference.
Donald has six sacks this season for a Rams defense coming off a poor showing in a 31-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 15.
The 49ers opened the game with an 18-play attack and never stopped.
“To put it really simple and short, they played [un] I play more physical than us – from an offensive standpoint and a defense standpoint, ”said Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. “They were able to keep those drives playing old school, torture mentality, you know, three yards and a cloud of dust.”
The Packers feature quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the current NFL MVP, and wide receiver Davante Adams. Running back Aaron Jones did not play in Sunday’s 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings due to a knee injury. If Jones remains sidelined, AJ Dillon will start again.
Donald said the Rams must establish consistency.
“That’s what this league is all about, you have to be consistent,” Donald said. “You can’t have a dominant week and then give up a lot of points or a lot of yards in other weeks.”
Last season, Donald was part of a defense that ranked among the best in the NFL in several categories.
The Rams finished 10-6 and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game. But during the game, Donald suffered a rib injury.
In the NFC division round game against the Packers, he only played 40 of 75 defensive at-bats, but made a tackle.
“When you think about what he persevered and struggled with, he just epitomizes what a leader is, showing his desire to want to be there with his teammates,” Rams coach Sean McVay said this week.
“And then obviously the snap count was limited.”
As the final seconds ticked off the Lambeau Field clock to end the Rams’ season, Donald was overcome with excitement.
“He wants to do everything for this team to try to help his teammates, so that we can collectively be successful,” McVay said.
“But it also represented that he was working on some things. And I think it was a combination of probably frustration, of not being able to be at his best. “
Donald indicated that last season is no longer discussed. He said he was “100% healthy” and energized.
“No injuries, no pain, no discomfort,” he said. “I feel good. So, we are ready to go. I’m ready to go.
Donald said the Rams will approach Sunday’s game as a playoff game.
He knows that when he gets excited his teammates are watching him.
“It’s about winning,” he said. “We all play for the ultimate goal of winning. We talk about it, I have done it, my goal is to be world champion. That is what I am after. That is what we are after.
“And until we do, I’m trying to figure out a way to go back to a Super Bowl and have a chance to win one. So that’s what is going to make me feel satisfied when I do. “
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Aaron Donald knows his emotional play can energize the Rams against Green Bay