The Rams secured a significant victory Saturday on the eve of what they really came here to win.
Aaron Donald was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year for the second consecutive season.
The fifth-year tackle was not available for comment at the league’s annual honors celebration because he was too busy resting for Super Bowl LIII.
Donald and the Rams will face New England on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“You never block him,” Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said recently. “What I mean by that is you think you have him and he’s off. He is a generational talent.”
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was named the league MVP and top offensive player after a breakout season that saw him produce multiple highlights on a weekly basis.
Other notable awards went to the Philadelphia defensive end Chris Long (Walter Payton Man of the Year), New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (offensive rookie) and Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck (comeback player).
Donald joined J.J. Watt (2014-2015) and Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (1981-1982) as the only repeat winners of defensive player of the year.
He led the NFL with 20.5 sacks, the most ever for an interior lineman. Including the playoffs, Donald has 77 quarterback pressures to top the league.
“He's never blocked,” New England center David Andrews said during Super Bowl week. “You might think you have him and the next thing you know he’s past you. He's a great player. He’s at the top of his game right now.”
The evidence of Donald’s immense impact on the NFL continues to mount. In his five seasons, he has 59.5 sacks and 97 tackles for a loss. He has reached double digits in sacks three times.
The Rams rewarded Donald with a $135-million extension in August. He rewarded them right back by helping the team make the Super Bowl.
“He’s a guy who could play in any era in the history of this league and be a very good player,” Scarnecchia said. “To do what he did this year is phenomenal. And we probably haven’t seen him at his best.”
Mahomes, 23, became the youngest NFL MVP since Miami quarterback Dan Marino in 1984. He finished with 50 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 5,097 yards and led the Chief to the AFC title game, where they lost in overtime to New England.
A disappointing offseason for the Chargers continued at the ceremony when Derwin James and Anthony Lynn both finished as runner-ups for honors.
James lost out to Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard for defensive rookie of the year, and Lynn finished second to Chicago’s Matt Nagy for coach of the year.
Leonard, a second-round pick out of South Carolina State, led the league in total tackles (163) and solo tackles (111).
“I was definitely nervous,” Leonard said. “Hands were sweating. Heart was racing a little bit, for sure. When I heard my name a little moment of relief went through my body.”
The Chargers took James with the 17th overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Florida State. He quickly established himself as the team’s most dynamic and versatile defender.
James finished with a team-high 105 total tackles and 13 passes defensed. He also had three interceptions and was one of seven rookies named All-Pro. Leonard also was an All-Pro.
“This rookie class is a great rookie class,” Leonard said. “Everybody’s doing their thing. It’s crazy that everybody is leading their team as a rookie. Everybody has to grew up real fast. It just shows this class is very mature.”
In his season season, Lynn led the Chargers to a 12-4 record and their first playoff appearance since the 2013 season.
They beat Baltimore in the wild-card round and then lost to New England a week later.
The Rams also were honored for having the league’s top offensive line, and quarterback Jared Goff was recognized for the “unstoppable performance of the year,” for his performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4. Goff passed for 465 yards and five touchdowns, both career highs, in a 38-31 win. He also had a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.