Captivated by the pain in Aaron Donald’s eyes, Raheem Morris made the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle a promise.
Morris, after becoming the team’s defensive coordinator, watched tape from the Rams falling to the Packers in the playoffs a year ago. As he did, he was struck by Donald’s grief.
“I’m going to do everything in my power possible to help you win a championship, and I mean that,” Morris recalled telling Donald.
Donald has accomplished a litany of feats since he was drafted in 2014. He’s broken records, and he’s been recognized accordingly.
But he’s never won a Super Bowl, though he knows the torment of losing one. He’s set on changing that.
Donald will look to lead the Rams to a championship against the Bengals next week.
“It’s just trying to find a way to win,” Donald said. “Trying to find a way to get back to accomplish something I’ve never accomplished before. I don’t know what it’s like to win a Super Bowl. I know what it feels like to be there, but I don’t know what it feels like to win. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time in this league. The only thing I’m lacking now is being a world champion.”
Aaron Donald is the ___ best defensive player of all time 🤔 pic.twitter.com/FTZLjFGREa
— PFF (@PFF) February 4, 2022
Aaron Donald’s Motivation After the Rams’ Super Bowl Loss
Donald was on the cusp of accomplishing his goal when the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl during the 2018 season. But in a defensive battle, the Patriots broke a tie in the fourth quarter and were victorious, 13-3.
The agony of the moment was evident. Donald was in the midst of a stellar career. Yet it wasn’t enough.
“All we can do is get better,” Donald said after the loss. “That’s all I can say. I know I’m going to get better. I’m going to find ways to break down film and find ways, when teams slow me down, what I’ve got to do to try to beat that. Just got to learn from it, keep working.”
His next words proved to be prophetic.
“We’re going to be back,” he said. “We’re going to be back for sure.”
Aaron Donald is in a league of his own 😤 pic.twitter.com/hDmKBGmE7e
— PFF (@PFF) February 3, 2022
Donald is a seven-time first-team All-Pro, as he was a unanimous selection three of the last four years. The three-time defensive player of the year owns the Rams’ career sack record. Rams head coach Sean McVay called him a “foundational” player from that 2018 team.
Donald tallied 20.5 sacks that season, a franchise-best and a league record for a defensive tackle. This is all while often facing two or three blockers on any given play. That level of production for his position, clearly, was unparalleled.
In spite of his team’s offensive shortcomings, Donald blamed himself following the Super Bowl. The Rams were supposed to win, he believed, so how could it have ended this way? He repeatedly mentioned how his teammates would move on from their “little pity party” and return their focus back to their training.
“I feel like I let my team down,” Donald said. “This is the big stage. This is what you work for, and I feel like I wasn’t there when we needed a big play. I’ve got to get better. I gotta work. I gotta find a way to prove my game and keep trying to find ways to get better.”
“I just know the coaches we’ve got, the talent we’ve got here, the talent we’re going to continue to bring in,” he added. “No doubt in my mind that we’re definitely going to be back, so we’ve got to keep working.”
AARON DONALD IS COMING FOR THAT RING 💍 pic.twitter.com/9OHTL62paM
— ESPN (@espn) January 31, 2022
Aaron Donald Makes Good on Vow to Enhance His Game
When Donald was drafted 13th overall in 2014 out of Pitt, he was emotional. In the wake of consistent support from his family, between his dad motivating him for early-morning workouts or his sister assisting with his homework, it felt like a culmination of lifelong strife.
In hindsight, it was an oversight for all teams who passed up on him. Additionally, the anguish wasn’t over for Donald.
No surprise here…
📺: 2022 Senior Bowl — Saturday 2:30pm ET on NFL Network pic.twitter.com/GFXAZ1Jgk0
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 4, 2022
But he made good on refining his repertoire. He believes he’s grown as a player. He comprehends the game more than ever before, understanding what techniques are best suited for an opposing offense’s approach.
It’s translated to the field. In 2021, he’s the highest-graded defender by Pro Football Focus. He’s also second among pass rushers, which includes edge players like Myles Garrett and TJ Watt.
Morris believes Donald may be among the most outstanding players ever. He relishes in their time together, adding he can share the stories of “greatness” he accrues in their everyday interactions.
The legend of Donald only expanded in his most recent showing on a prominent stage.
On third-and-13 in the NFC Championship, the 49ers had the ball with 1:19 to play in need of a field goal. Jimmy Garoppolo caught the shotgun snap and looked downfield. Donald flushed him out of the pocket in three seconds.
Garoppolo spun and ran to his left. It wasn’t enough to escape the clutches of the Rams’ stalwart. As Garoppolo was dragged to the ground, he desperately heaved a pass forward.
It was deflected. Then it was intercepted. Game over.
— NFL (@NFL) January 31, 2022
“Aaron Donald, anything you tell me he did, it wouldn’t shock me,” Morris said.
Swarmed by teammates, Donald ripped his helmet off and shouted in exhilaration after the play. He, once again, shined when his team needed him. And once again, he’s on the verge of his most coveted accolade, the one that’s eluded him like no quarterback hardly can.
Leadership Presence Expanding for Aaron Donald
Donald, Morris noted, doesn’t often make speeches in front of the whole team. That’s usually reserved for his own unit.
The week leading up to the NFC Championship was different. He was more willing to widely express his thoughts. And when he does, Morris said, the Rams listen.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said Donald ensures his team’s vision is consistent. Everyone, he added, needs to work in lockstep to achieve what they’ve set out to.
“He definitely has been a little bit more vocal, wanting to break the defense down a little bit more than usual and things like that and try to give us that extra motivation,” Ramsey said. “Obviously everybody on the whole team and especially on the defense thinks highly of him. So it does mean a little bit extra when AD does things like that.”
When Aaron Donald starts leading, you better start listening pic.twitter.com/PM2aLdwbxq
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) January 31, 2022
From the public relations team, to the training room staff to the players themselves, Morris said all involved with the franchise want to win for Donald. They hope to “create more mystique to his legacy,” the coach added.
Rams linebacker Von Miller was around some all-time greats before he was traded from the Broncos. On his way to becoming a Super Bowl MVP, he played alongside the likes of Peyton Manning and DeMarcus Ware.
But Donald’s will to win, Miller said, is likely the greatest he’s been around. The Rams feed off that constant intensity.
“When you get to play with guys like that, you want to play for them,” Miller said. “You want to lay your neck on the line for guys like that. He’s done everything you possibly can as a football player but win the Super Bowl. When you build a resume like that, you have a team like we do, you want to go out there and play for the guy. You want to go out there and lay it all on the line for the guy.”
Donald re-emphasized the reasoning for his labor, the additional film study, the grueling days of offseason workouts. It was all about championships.
With his team leaning on him once again, Donald doesn’t want to fail. His hopeful thoughts now are echoes of the misery he incurred three years ago.
“The ultimate goal was winning and trying to find a way to win and trying to find a way to be the last team standing,” Donald said. “Until we accomplish that, anything that’s not that is a loss in my eyes.”