June 23, 2024

It was among the most memorable plays of Super Bowl LVI, the one that sealed the Rams’ victory.

With 43 seconds left, the Cincinnati Bengals faced a fourth-and-one at the Rams 49-yard line.

Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald burst into the backfield and began wrestling Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to the ground. Burrow desperately tossed the ball in the direction of a running back, but it fell incomplete, preserving the Rams’ 23-20 victory and starting a celebration by Donald and the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

“That’s the one that sticks out,” Donald said Friday.

On Monday night at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, the Rams will play the Bengals for the first time since their Super Bowl matchup.

Rosters have turned over twice since that Super Bowl but several stars for both teams remain, including Donald and Burrow.

The question is whether Burrow will play Monday after aggravating a preseason calf injury during a 27-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, a defeat that dropped the Bengals to 0-2.

Burrow was limited in practice on Friday and Saturday and is listed as questionable. But Rams coach Sean McVay said this week that his team would prepare to face Burrow, who signed a five-year, $275-million extension before the season.

“He’s worth a lot of money for a reason,” Rams edge rusher Michael Hoecht said.

Jake Browning is Burrow’s backup, and the Bengals on Friday signed Reid Sinnett to their practice squad. On Saturday they signed veteran AJ McCarron.

Burrow has struggled to regain the form that helped him lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2021 and the AFC Championship last season. He has completed only 57% of his passes for 304 yards.

Bengals quarterbacks Joe Burrow (9) and Jake Browning talks during camp.

Jake Browning (6) is the backup quarterback behind Bengals’ starter Joe Burrow (9), who is nursing a calf injury.

(Jeff Dean / Associated Press)

Bengals coach Zac Taylor has said that Burrow was day to day. McVay expects to see the fourth-year pro.

“You’d be silly not to prepare for one of the best,” McVay said. “We’ll find out probably later on in the week or maybe 90 minutes before kickoff whether he’s going or not.”

The game will mark the first time Donald will be on the field with the Bengals since August 2022, when the Rams and Bengals held two joint practices in Cincinnati before a preseason game.

During the second practice, a brawl erupted, and Donald was captured on video swinging a helmet.

Donald does not anticipate carryover Monday.

“Our main focus is trying to find a way to win a game,” he said. “It ain’t about going out there trying to fight. … Ain’t trying to do nothing dirty. I’m just here to do my job and try to win a game and that’s it.”

Donald parlayed the Super Bowl victory and hints at retirement into a massive raise before the 2022 season. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery, however, and forced him to miss the final six games. He finished with a career-low five sacks.

Donald has half-a-sack in two games this season,

But in last week’s 30-23 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, he had no tackles or assists. It was the first time since 2020 and only the third time in nine-plus seasons that Donald failed to record a tackle.

“I’m playing in a game, so you kind of know you ain’t getting nothing,” Donald said. “It’s boring, obviously, but you gotta keep playing and hopefully your plays come.”

For the first time in his career, Donald is playing without an experienced wingman. That enabled the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers to deploy even more players and schemes to neutralize the three-time NFL defensive player of the year.

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris credited the 49ers for their strategy.

“They do a great job knowing us so well, of trying to limit some of those exposures to Aaron that can be disastrous,” Morris said.

Donald can still affect a game, even if it does not show up in his statistics.

“Obviously, if you’re getting two or three guys on you, that gives opportunities to other guys to come free at times,” he said. “They’re going to make the plays if I ain’t making them.”

Linebacker Ernest Jones anticipates that Donald will be a factor against the Bengals. Burrow does a good job making decisions before the snap and gets the ball out quick, but Donald is relentless, Jones said.

“Ninety-nine’s an all-world guy,” Jones said, referencing Donald’s jersey number, “so he has to get it out quick, or he’ll be there at some point.”

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