Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald stood on the sideline at Lambeau Field and was unable to hold back tears as the clock wound down to a 32-18 loss to the Green Bay Packers in a divisional-round playoff.
Rams coach Sean McVay and defensive line coach Eric Henderson tried to console Donald, who played Saturday only a week removed from suffering a significant rib injury in a wild-card playoff win.
“I love Aaron Donald, it means a lot to him,” McVay said after the game, “and it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t at full strength today.”
Before Saturday’s game, Donald said he felt good, strong, and would be ready to play. But the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was clearly limited against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Wearing protective padding on his ribs, Donald played only 55% of the snaps, down from his season average of 85%, though McVay said he was not on a snap count.
“Aaron is able to sub himself,” McVay said. “The plan going in was seeing how he feels, he’s kind of always got the ability to tell us how he’s feeling.”
Donald was doubled-teamed on 15 of his 21 pass rushes and failed to record a pass rush win — beating a block within 2.5 seconds — for only the second time since 2017, according to ESPN metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats. He recorded one pressure against Rodgers, however the Packers’ quarterback completed a 33-yard pass to tight end Robert Tonyan on the play.
Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers expressed disappointment for Donald after the game.
“Hard for a guy like that to work as hard as he does to put in everything that he does,” Brockers said, later adding, “[I] just got to talk to him, let him know, ‘Man, that’s not on you, that’s not on you — there’s no reason you have to feel that way, [that] you feel like you failed or anything like that. You gave us everything you had and you’re the reason why we’re here.'”
Donald finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 13.5 sacks and added two more in the 30-20 wild-card win over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams’ defense finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in efficiency, yards allowed per game (281.9) and points allowed per game (18.5).
However, Rodgers and the Packers piled up 484 total yards of offense and kept the Rams’ defense on the field, dominating the time of possession, 36:12 to 23:48.
Prior to Saturday, the Rams had not let an opponent this season score on its first three drives, but the Packers scored on five straight to open the game, including a 14-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that was prolonged when Donald — in apparent frustration — picked up a penalty for unnecessary roughness when he grabbed offensive lineman Elgton Jenkin’s facemask.
Donald was not made available to reporters after the game.