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AARON DONALD SPEAKS WITH PETER KING IN THIS WEEK’S “FMIA” COLUMN

“In my head, I promise you I’m like, I’m about to make this play. We’re about to win a Super Bowl…You couldn’t write it any better.” – Aaron Donald to King on stopping the Bengals on fourth down to win Super Bowl LVI

“Since the NFL handed the keys to America’s second-largest market to the Rams six years ago, it was the gritty and powerful Donald who was the decisive player on the field.” – King

“Talking to some people close to Donald and the team, it sounds 50-50 on retirement.” – King on Donald’s future

STAMFORD, Conn. – Feb. 21, 2022 – Peter King speaks with Rams defensive lineman and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald about the team’s Super LVI victory in this week’s edition of Football Morning in America, available now exclusively on NBCSports.com. King also speaks with Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and Texans head coach Lovie Smith, provides updates on Rams head coach Sean McVay, the Steelers hiring Brian Flores, and more.

For more NFL coverage, Peacock offers daily programming on the NBC Sports channel for free, including Pro Football Talk at 7 a.m. ET every weekday, Chris Simms Unbuttoned, The Peter King Podcast, The Rich Eisen Show, Brother from Another, and The Dan Patrick Show. To learn more about the NBC Sports on Peacock channel and how to sign up, click here.

The following are highlights from this week’s edition of Football Morning in America:

AARON DONALD & THE RAMS

King: “Each season, a week after the Super Bowl, I try to deconstruct the biggest play or plays of the game, diving deep into them with the biggest people in the game…This year, I was stuck on (Aaron) Donald, indisputably the best defensive player in football.”

King on Donald: “How often does a truly great player – and Donald goes down with Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White as the three best defensive players I’ve covered in my tenure (Deion Sanders four, Ray Lewis five) – make the biggest plays of his life at the biggest moment of his life, in perhaps the last two plays of his life? That’s exactly what Donald did…On the biggest series of plays since the NFL handed the keys to America’s second-largest market to the Rams six years ago, it was the gritty and powerful Donald who was the decisive player on the field.”

King: “What was great about those two plays? They followed the exact coaching points (defensive coordinator Raheem) Morris drilled into his players in the two weeks prior to the game. The most important two things the defense had to do to win were to dominate run downs, and mentally and physically affect the quarterback. Donald dominated the most important run down of the game, and he mentally and physically affected (Bengals QB Joe) Burrow on the most important pass play of the game.”

Morris to King: “This game was not about me making some genius calls. This was about showing the players plays of themselves making the exact kind of plays we needed to win the game. It was just beautiful that the last two plays set up for Aaron.”

King on his conversation with Donald: “Two things struck me about my Zoom time with Donald. This was four days after the game, and I don’t recall anyone being as ebullient and overjoyed days after winning. Usually there’s fatigue and a bit of a businesslike nature…Second thing: For Donald, winning Defensive Player of the Year three times is an honor. Winning the Super Bowl is everything. This is not phony-baloney stuff from Donald.”

King: “There is something so just when a great player wins his first Super Bowl. At 30, sand was running out of the hourglass for Donald. Lots of reasons why so many Rams were rooting for him, but the thought of seeing all-time greatness finish one shy of a Super Bowl ring for a second painful time was certainly part of it.”

Donald to King: “Last year, the thing about the Green Bay game, what broke my heart the most, I felt like I wasn’t at my best…I’m a piece to the puzzle. I’m not everything. That day, I wasn’t able to be that piece for my team. That hurt, man. It really did. I don’t think I ever cried that much, you know, after a game. I was in the shower. I was in the locker room. I just couldn’t stop crying.”

Donald on his early years with the Rams: “Horrible. I tell people all the time it was the worst feeling in the world. It’s kinda like, you keep studying for the test but you keep failing. In St. Louis or that first year in California – that was one of the years I got my most fines just for doing silly things…Losing, man, it just brings the worst out in people”

Donald on meeting Sean McVay for the first time: “I remember walking into the room and they said, ‘We’re gonna hire this guy. We want you to talk to him. Let us know what you think.’ I’m looking around, I see this young coach just sitting there. I’m like, I know that’s not the head coach they’re about to get, is it? It ended up being an amazing hire. It’s been a blessing to have him as my head coach and build the bond with him.”

Donald on the scuffle in the Super Bowl after pushing QB Joe Bengals out of bounds: “Actually, Burrow was the one, he looked at me, like, ‘Hey Aaron, that was a clean play.’ The quarterback told me that! I feel everybody start pushing me, hitting me. I almost lost it. The refs were like, Aaron, get out of here. They [the Bengals] already got me mad. Now they want to push on me, say all these words to me…You just woke me up. You just woke me up!”

Morris on Donald heading into the final drive of the Super Bowl: “When Cooper Kupp scored the go-ahead touchdown inside of two minutes to go, Aaron got up off the bench and had such a leadership moment. He went up and down the sideline, to every defensive player, and he kept saying, ‘This is our moment! Let’s go!’ … That’s one of those moments as a coach when you think, They don’t need me. Just stay out of the way.”

Donald on stopping the Bengals on fourth down: “In my head, I promise you I’m like, I’m about to make this play. We’re about to win a Super Bowl. And when I grabbed him, I was like, We just won a Super Bowl! … You couldn’t write it any better. It felt good. It felt really good.”

King on Donald’s future: “If this is it – Donald would only say he’s living in the moment and wants to enjoy today; plenty of time to think about playing more football – then no NFL player has ever ended a career more dramatically: game-turning sack to stunt a huge momentum swing in the third quarter, then a run stuff and a QB-stopper on the two clinching plays of a Super Bowl…Talking to some people close to Donald and the team, it sounds 50-50 on retirement.”

Donald: “I always set high goals but I surpassed anything that I ever thought was possible. I remember being a kid watching the Super Bowl, cheering for the Steelers. I got to play in my second Super Bowl and win one. Like, that’s the type of experience that…You can’t dream bigger than that, man. If you ain’t playing for this, if you ain’t playing to be a world champion, then you’re in the wrong business.”

NEWS & NOTES

King on Rams head coach Sean McVay: “It appears McVay will return to coach the Rams for a sixth season in 2022. And maybe that’s the end of the story. It probably is. But it would be understandable if he strongly considered a TV job… If McVay leaves, it would wound the Rams.”

King on Brian Flores: “Surprise of the week: On Saturday, the Steelers hired the coach suing the NFL over claims of racism and attempted owner-bribery. Flores will be senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach with Pittsburgh under Mike Tomlin. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, that a strong and iconoclastic organization such as the Steelers would make the best decision for the team, regardless of the fact that Flores clearly ruffled feathers in several establishment organizations with his lawsuit.”

King on how Covid will impact the 2022 NFL Combine: “The league said players will be on-site for a shorter time, and it’s thought the physical and medical testing will be done in tighter windows now while also allowing for the 15-minute meetings teams have with selected players. That’s a big part of the combine learning experience for teams.”

Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith to King on addressing his team: “We won four games this year. The Bengals won four the year before, and this was a big year for them. We don’t have to wonder – we just saw a team do it. Someone’s going to make that jump. Someone always does. Why not us?”

King on the Texans being compared to the Bengals: “Well, there’s the quarterback position, for one thing. Joe Burrow versus Davis Mills. There’s a sobering comparison…It’s been a long time since any NFL franchise used Cincinnati as a beacon.”

Smith to King on not being interviewed for the Texans’ job until after the Flores lawsuit: “I tell most coaches in general: Every time you coach, you’re kind of interviewing for a job. When you say that I wasn’t [a candidate for the job], I think ownership, everyone, players, they all got a chance to see I came in with the background. I’ve been a head football coach. They got a chance to get to know me and see me in a leadership role. Once this job became open, you start looking at everyone. I know there are some public guys, but the organization has been asking my opinion on quite a few things and just what we needed to do going forward. You never know what’s really going on behind the scenes. But to say that I just got popped up at the end, I don’t think that was truly the case.”

King on Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris: “I think no later than one year from today, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will be a head coach in the NFL. In fact, I’d give it quite favorable odds.”

Read the full FMIA column here and catch the weekly Peter King Podcast here.

The following are additional highlights of NBC Sports’ NFL coverage:




    • PFT Live with NBC Sports’ Mike Florio and Mike Golic (Mondays) and Florio and Chris Simms (Tuesday-Thursday) streams on Peacock from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. ET on weekdays & is available on-demand. The Dan Patrick Show streams at 9 a.m. ET, The Rich Eisen Show at Noon ET, Brother From Another at 3 p.m. ET, PFT PM at 5 p.m. ET. At 6 p.m. ET, Chris Simms Unbuttoned streams Tuesday-Friday.
    • ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest news and updates.
    • NBC Sports EDGE’s A Good Football Show continues the NFL discussion and Bet The Edge Podcast provides daily betting insights.

A new “Football Morning in America” posts every Monday morning exclusively on NBCSports.com through the NFL season. It was announced in May 2019 that King signed an exclusive agreement with NBC Sports Group that included writing a weekly Monday morning NFL column for NBCSports.com; making regular appearances on PFT Live with Mike Florio; and continuing to contribute to Football Night in America, the most-watched studio show in sports.

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