The biggest sack of Aaron Donald’s career wasn’t a sack at all.
The Bengals lined up at the Rams’ 49-yard line trailing by three with 43 seconds to play in Sunday’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium. Cincinnati had a receiver split to either side, a tight end in the left slot and a running back to the left of quarterback Joe Burrow.
They’d just failed to run for a first down — Donald stopped Samaje Perine’s momentum on third-and-1 — so the Bengals took a timeout and drew up a fourth-down pass play.
Donald — the best defensive player on the planet playing perhaps the last down of his career — lined up across from Bengals left guard Quinton Spain, chopped down on his arm and sprinted around his left. It took 2.2 seconds before Donald had both arms around Burrow, spinning him counterclockwise. After one full rotation, Burrow, looking like a rodeo rider, flung the ball forward incomplete.
The Rams, in their home stadium, had won the Super Bowl 23-20.
Donald had clinched it — the way he should. He finished the night with two sacks for 10 yards, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
“You gotta be relentless,” he said. “You want something bad enough, you gotta go get it.”
Other teams have tried to get their own version of him, but Donald has been a unique figure on the NFL landscape since the Rams drafted him 13th overall in 2014. He’s what the Bears thought they were getting when they traded for Khalil Mack in 2018.
“When it was a fourth down and you could see they got into the shotgun and they were probably not gonna run the football, I said, ‘Aaron’s gonna close the game out right here,’” Rams coach Sean McVay said.