There was little revelry in the Rams’ dressing room after Sunday’s rout of the Arizona Cardinals.
After all, the team clinched the NFC West title three weeks ago. And the playoffs are at least two weeks away so, in some ways, Sunday’s game was just another win.
But there was reason to celebrate in the row of lockers reserved for defensive linemen. And Ethan Westbrooks made sure everyone knew it, loudly teasing teammate Aaron Donald, whose three sacks gave him 19½ for the season, an NFL record for a defensive tackle. Keith Millard of the Minnesota Vikings set the previous record of 18 in 1989.
“It’s what you work for and grind for,” Donald said, his voice, unlike Westbrooks’, hovering just above a whisper. “Just to get out there and play the game and try to help your team to win. And in doing that, you just help yourself.
“Any time you’re rewarded and can be a part of history, it’s a special moment. I was just trying to make some plays. That’s it. I was just playing.”
Going against an injury riddled offensive line featuring three rookies, Donald got started early, whipping around center Mason Cole to sack Arizona quarterback Josh Rosen for a seven-yard loss on the Cardinals’ fifth snap. His final two sacks came on Arizona’s first two drives of the fourth quarter as he broke Robert Quinn’s franchise record of 19 set in 2013.
“He continues to deliver in a big way,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “What he has done this year has been special for our team, but then it’s also special to see the individual making so many elite plays when so many offenses are cognizant of where he’s at and how that dictates and determines how they’re going to protect and do different things.”
Donald is the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year, and McVay, among others, believes the fifth-year pro is a leading contender for the league’s MVP this season. Only two defensive players have won the MVP, the last being linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants in 1986. Defensive tackle Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings won in 1971.
And speaking of history, Donald needs three sacks in the Rams’ final regular-season game with San Francisco on Sunday to match Michael Strahan’s 17-year-old NFL record of 22½ sacks. Asked if he planned to make a run at the record, Donald broke into a wide smile.
“We’re just gonna play and see what happens,” he said.