By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Aaron Donald is already the most fearsome defender in the NFL but the sting of a Super Bowl loss that kept him from making good on a promise to his young daughter has the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle determined to come back better next season.
The moment that stuck with Donald most from that Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots in February did not happen in the game but rather in the immediate aftermath as his opponents brought their families on to the field to celebrate.
As Donald returned to the Rams locker room his daughter was reduced to tears since the result meant she was not able to play with her dad in the shiny confetti that cascaded from the rafters and coated the field.
“My main thing is I got to hold up to that promise. I told her she was going to be able to play in that confetti with her dad after we win,” Donald told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“So we are going to get there and we are going to win it this time… definitely more motivated than ever.”
The two-times reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, whose dominance has redefined his position, is so set on improving that he dismissed suggestions that he take two weeks off after the Super Bowl and was in the gym four days later.
Donald, who has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL campaigns and in 2018 came up two sacks shy of tying Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5, is convinced that he has another level to his game.
“People are probably going to think I’m just talking, but I honestly feel like I haven’t played my best yet,” said Donald, who is working with DICK’S Sporting Goods on their National Runners’ Month campaign for May.
“I feel like there is a lot more room for improvement. I did a lot of good things last season that I get to build off but I also did a lot of things that I could clean up to make myself that much better.”
For all his dominance, Donald was largely held in check in his maiden Super Bowl appearance where he was limited to five tackles and one quarterback hit in a 13-3 loss.
Still, Donald is convinced that he and his young team mates will benefit from the experience of having played on the NFL’s biggest stage and will find a way to win should they make a return trip to the championship game.
“Experience is everything in this league,” said Donald.
“The more experience you got the more things you are able to go through, and the ups and downs through a season that you had I don’t think it can do anything but make you that much better.”
The 28-year-old former first-round draft pick has yet to watch a replay of the Super Bowl but plans to do so ahead of the 2019 season and break down each play to determine how he could have had a greater impact.
Donald promises to be more prepared than ever when the 2019 NFL regular season begins in September and had one simple message to the other 31 teams.
“They ain’t seen the Rams’ best football yet,” said Donald. “There’s a lot more to come.”
(This refiled story corrects typo in eighth paragraph)
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)