THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – No matter how many sacks Aaron Donald racks up, he doesn't stop thinking about the quarterbacks who got away.
Donald’s first game in his 30s last Sunday looked like most of his performances from his 20s for the Los Angeles Rams. The most dominant defensive lineman of the previous seven NFL seasons harassed the Bears’ entire offense, constantly drawing double teams and altering Chicago's game plan in the Rams' season-opening 34-14 victory.
Donald essentially ended the Rams’ blowout win by sacking Andy Dalton on fourth down with 2:18 to play. But that moment faded from his mind in comparison to a play earlier in the fourth quarter in which Dalton escaped his grasp, only to run into a sack by linebacker Justin Hollins.
“I don’t know what was going on,” Donald said with a grimace Thursday. “I was letting plays just slip out of my hands. I’ve been working on my grip all week, making sure that everything will be good. I changed my gloves. They’re not getting away no more. I missed the play, but (Hollins) cleaned it up. I was more disappointed in myself, but happy for him.”
As Donald closes in on the Rams’ career sacks record this week when the Rams visit Indianapolis (0-1), the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year shows zero signs of slippage after 30.
Donald leads the NFL in sacks since his rookie season with 86 1/2, although he’s barely holding off Chandler Jones (84 1/2) after the Arizona star’s five-sack opener. Donald also leads the league in tackles for loss (132) by a wide margin during his career.
With one more sack, he will tie Leonard Little for the Rams franchise record — although the record books don't officially count the prolific career of Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, who played for Los Angeles from 1961-71 and coined the phrase “sack the quarterback.”
Perhaps even more impressively, Donald is attempting to complete a remarkable achievement this Sunday: He is just beginning his eighth NFL season, but he already has a sack against every team except the Colts.
The Rams have only faced Indy once during his career, and Donald didn’t play in that 2017 game because he ended his contract holdout earlier that day, which also happened to be Sean McVay’s coaching debut.
“I'm eager to get out there and play a game and win a game,” Donald said when asked if he is eager to complete his full NFL set of sacks.
New life decade, same A.D. — in almost every way, he says with a grin.
“I feel the same,” Donald said. “I feel good. Man, I feel strong. I feel like I look good. I feel fast. I feel explosive. If anything, I feel a little smarter out there, as far as understanding certain things to play a little faster. It’s just the aches and pains at times last a little longer. So that’s it.”
A 30th birthday can be a time for reflection, but Donald is keeping any existential insights to himself since reaching the milestone in May. In fact, more has changed off the field than on it for the cornerstone of the NFL's No. 1 defense in 2020: That's because Donald's wife, Erica, recently gave birth to his third child, a boy named Aaric — a combination of his parents' names.
“That’s everything to me. That’s first,” he said about fatherhood. “That comes before anything. Being able to be there for my kids, provide for my kids, having them in my life, being a real Dad. Not just be able to provide financially, but being in their lives to teach them good, bad, wrong, all types of things.”
Donald even handles the potential downsides of a newborn with skill.
“No, I’ve been getting good sleep,” Donald said. “I have a little bit more motivation this year. ... I’m just blessed. I’m happy. It’s just more motivation for me, you know?”
The last thing the rest of the NFL needs is Donald with extra motivation, but he's still pushing toward another Super Bowl with the Rams, who might have taken the significant step forward on offense necessary to keep up with their own impressive defense.
Matthew Stafford's 321-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Bears pushed Los Angeles to a comfortable win and provided more than enough support for a defense that carried the Rams for long stretches of the past two seasons.
“It's exciting,” Donald said. “Anytime your guys are out there scoring a lot of touchdowns, it's fun to watch.”
NOTES: DT Sebastian Joseph-Day was limited in practice, but everyone else on the Rams' roster was a full participant Thursday. Joseph-Day (knee) is still expected to play Sunday.
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