Aaron Donald exited Sunday’s Los Angeles Rams-New Orleans Saints game with a back injury suffered early in the first half.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year got hurt going after Teddy Bridgewater on a third down conversion (according to FOX) and exited the game. FOX later showed the 5-time Pro Bowler heading into the locker room and said he had a back injury.
However, another video showed Donald grabbing his lower back after a play towards the end of the first quarter.
Donald had a career-high 20.5 sacks last season and led the league with 25 tackles for a loss. He’s one of the most dominant defensive players in the league, and any time he misses is serious. He was listed as questionable to return.
Few expected Super Bowl LIII to be a total defensive struggle, but that’s what we got in a 13-3 New England Patriots victory. New England’s latest title comes at the expense of the Los Angeles Rams, whose high-powered offense failed to even score a touchdown in the biggest game of their season.
Here’s a look at five major disappointments from Super Bowl LIII.
Los Angeles Rams’ offense
The New England defense played great, but the Rams’ offense didn’t ever look like they were going on a run. Todd Gurley and the run game disappeared. Jared Goff was pressured and seemed confused a lot and never really found a groove or open receivers. He was slightly late on a key throw to Brandin Cooks that should have been a touchdown, and was let down by Cooks on a drop in the fourth quarter on what may have been his best throw of the day. It just didn’t work out for anyone on the Rams’ offense in the big game, which was rather shocking considering how good they were for much of the season.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams
The Rams were bad on offense all day and struggled to get anything going, but one key moment in the fourth quarter may end up being the key moment of the game. Rams receiver Brandin Cooks had a touchdown catch if he could just haul in the throw, but it slipped through his hands. On the very next play, Jared Goff threw a lame duck interception that set the Patriots up to run out the clock. Cooks will be seeing that play in his nightmares. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was certainly catchable.
Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
The Rams got a lot of pressure on Tom Brady early in the game, and Donald was in the middle of it. Ultimately, though, the Patriots’ offensive line began to take over and didn’t really let Brady take a lot of pressure in the second half. From that standpoint, Donald simply didn’t have the impact that he had hoped to have. He had five tackles, and did get one hit on Brady, but didn’t get a sack and wasn’t really a wrecking ball in the backfield. It’s a bit ruthless to say so when the Patriots were held to just 13 points, but from a standpoint of pushing New England backwards or forcing turnovers, it just didn’t happen.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
We will probably get more on Gurley’s status in the days to come, but Sunday did nothing to convince anyone that the Rams’ running back wasn’t playing hurt. After a lot of talk about a bigger role in the Super Bowl, Gurley was anonymous early and didn’t get a lot better as the game went on. Gurley got just 10 carries for 35 yards and lost a yard on his only reception. He didn’t ever appear fully healthy, and it wasn’t a performance he’ll want to remember.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Brady is a deserved winner of another Super Bowl, but this certainly won’t go down to his finest performance in a championship. A lot of his throws were off, and he threw a very bad interception in the first quarter. To Brady’s credit, he didn’t commit any further turnovers, though he had a scary moment with a sack and fumble. Brady didn’t throw for a touchdown and his one great pass of the day was to Rob Gronkowski on the ultimately winning touchdown drive, but he let the run game carry him and found Julian Edelman when he needed to. It still wasn’t a signature performance.
The big question on everyone’s mind is who will win Super Bowl LIII. There’s more than just the big prize at stake on Sunday in Atlanta, however. There are a lot of lesser prizes to claim, and not the least of them is Super Bowl MVP honors.
The joy of Super Bowl MVP is that anyone can win it. Sure, that sounds obvious on the surface, but any one player can have a big game out of nowhere, and that’s all it takes to put yourself in the conversation. Any player could jump up and surprise us and claim honors on Sunday, but some options are more obvious than others. Here are ten who would seem to stand a pretty good chance of claiming the award.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
If the Patriots win, it’s pretty easy to envision Brady claiming the Super Bowl MVP. The quarterback tends to play his best in big games, and this certainly counts as the biggest. The Rams can be vulnerable to the pass, and with two weeks of gameplanning, it’s pretty safe to say that Brady will be prepared for whatever Los Angeles throws at him. If he has a big game, it’s easy to see the MVP voters defaulting to him.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams
Cooks is the Rams’ big play wide receiver, the man Jared Goff counts on when he needs a big chunk of yardage. That puts Cooks in position to put up some big numbers. He had five 100-yard receiving games in the regular season, and he put up 107 yards on the New Orleans Saints during the playoffs. He hasn’t put up huge touchdown totals, but if he has a big yardage game and finds the end zone once or twice, hardware could come his way.
Aaron Donald has been a beast this season despite holding out throughout training camp, which has led to a funny line of thinking.
The Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle led the league with 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the fifth straight season and first-team All-Pro for the fourth straight season. He did all that despite not participating in the Rams’ offseason program.
Rams head coach Sean McVay was asked this week whether Donald would have to attend training camp next season and had a funny answer.
Here’s McVay responding to a question about whether Aaron Donald will have to attend training camp this year. pic.twitter.com/P3ZXUglFI7
True enough. Donald was given a $135 million contract over six years with $87 million guaranteed. He has no reason not to show up now and should be setting a good example for the rest of his teammates.
In the meantime, the focus will be on winning the Super Bowl.
Just as coaching staffs have been analyzing their Super Bowl opponents and formulating gameplans, fans and pundits are looking at matchups and potential talking points for the big game. There’s a lot to digest in a matchup of Bill Belichick and Sean McVay, along with the numerous weapons both coaches have at their disposal.
Which players will matter most, though? There are several names who could flip the game if they play at their best. Here are ten key players to look out for once Super Bowl LIII kicks off.
10) C.J. Anderson, RB, Rams
It’s become abundantly clear over the course of the playoffs that Anderson has a big role in the Los Angeles offense, particularly as a vertical runner. He outran Todd Gurley against the Cowboys and got significantly more carries against the Saints. How they’ll choose to deploy him against the Patriots remains to be seen, but there’s little doubt that Anderson is in line for a major role as they try to keep the New England defense and scheme on its toes.
One of the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, or Los Angeles Rams will be crowned Super Bowl champions in less than a month, and it’s fun to think of which players might end up getting each team there. Many are obvious, but all are of vital importance. If these ten players play their best, it’s hard to stop them, and it’s easy to see how they can win a game for their team at the most important time of the year.
Here are the ten most important players left in the NFL playoffs.
10) Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
Thomas had a dominant game against the Philadelphia Eagles, going for 171 yards receiving against the reigning Super Bowl champions. That means that whomever the Los Angeles Rams have covering him is going to be facing a very tough task, and it wouldn’t be any easier for any potential AFC opponent in the Super Bowl. Thomas is a favorite of Brees and a threat in every way, and if the Saints win the Super Bowl, expect him to be a big reason why.
With two weeks to go in the NFL season, the MVP race has heated up, and we have a pretty clear idea of who may take home the prestigious award. While there are a number of worthy candidates, two names have really risen above and beyond the rest to make themselves favorites for the award, leaving the chasing pack behind. The race between them will be one of the key subplots of the final two weeks of the regular season. Beyond those two, several other players deserve recognition for the seasons they’re enjoying.
Here are the ten leading candidates for the NFL MVP award.
10. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
Wilson has essentially hauled the Seahawks into the playoffs in what many people expected would be a down year for the team. The remarkable quarterback has thrown 31 touchdowns to just six interceptions, and at least through Week 15 is posting the best QBR of his entire career. Wilson’s problem is his numbers just don’t compare to the quarterbacks nearer the top of the list, and losses to teams like San Francisco will do little to bolster his chances. A worthy candidate, but to call him a longshot would probably be generous.
James Conner’s story is one of the most inspirational you will ever hear in sports, as the star running back was diagnosed with cancer just three short years ago and is now one of the best players in the NFL. Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald is not surprised by that, and he can now officially give Conner an “I told you so.”
After he was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday, Conner shared a text message on social media that Donald sent him three years ago after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Donald, who was teammates with Conner at the University of Pittsburgh, said he couldn’t wait to look back on the diagnosis after Conner became a Pro Bowler.
Conner probably received countless messages like that one, but Donald’s obviously stuck with the running back if he thought to share it three years later.
Conner’s emergence this season has allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to not skip a beat without Le’Veon Bell, and you could use some stats to argue they have been even better than they were with Bell. The fact that their new running back beat cancer to become a Pro Bowler is something that probably doesn’t get enough attention.
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald got into with Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt late in Sunday’s game, but it’s what Donald did after the game that will be more likely to result in disciplinary action than what he did during.
With just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of the Rams’ 36-31 win over Seattle, Donald scooped up an incomplete pass that he thought was a fumble and began to run with it. Britt shoved him down after Donald was well out of bounds, and Donald quickly sprung up and grabbed Britt. The two teams exchanged a bunch of shoves as officials tried to separate them.
That should have been the end of it, but Donald was still steaming after the game. He decided he wanted to confront Britt again during postgame handshakes, and he put his helmet back on for the occasion.
Even if Donald and Britt weren’t going to be fined for their in-game shoving match, Donald will almost certainly be fined for that. Emotions boiling over during the game is understandable, but Donald should have never put his helmet back on just so he could butt heads with Britt after the final whistle blew.
Several members of the Los Angeles Rams were very directly affected by the wildfires that have devastated the state of California this past week.
Rich Hammond of the OC Register reported on Sunday that quarterback Jared Goff and defensive tackle Aaron Donald were among the Rams forced to evacuate their LA-area homes on Thursday or Friday. Hammond also says that offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and GM Les Snead had to evacuate their homes as well (with Snead being noted as having a particularly close call).
Southern California is currently battling multiple serious blazes, most notably the Woolsey Fire, which originated in Ventura County and has burned nearly 85,000 acres. That fire is just a few dozen miles away from the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Rams defeated the Seattle Seahawks 36-31 on Sunday.