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INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Aaron Donald has been around long enough to know he might not get this chance again. The same goes for everybody in the Los Angeles Rams’ constellation of stars around him.

Late in his eighth NFL season as the best defensive lineman of his generation, Donald’s career is rich with individual honors, but lacking ultimate team success.

The Rams (14-5) made several bold moves this season to build a team around Donald more capable of winning it all, and now they’re one step away from playing in a Super Bowl in their home stadium when they host the San Francisco 49ers (12-7) in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

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“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time in this league,” said Donald, the seven-time All-Pro and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. “The only thing I’m lacking now is being a world champion. To get to that point, we’ve got to win this week.”

After crying on the sideline last January when the Rams’ season slipped away in Green Bay, Donald is desperate to take that penultimate step toward his last career goal. So are Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, Andrew Whitworth, Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp and several other Rams whose otherwise impressive careers don’t have that certain championship ring.

“So many teammates on my team, this is really all they need,” said linebacker Von Miller, the Super Bowl 50 MVP with Denver and midseason Rams acquisition. “Aaron Donald, this is all he needs, and he has the whole shebang, you know? Andrew Whitworth and Eric Weddle and all of these guys, I want to do it for them.”

These rivals match up superbly, with both offenses relying heavily on an All-Pro receiver (Kupp and Deebo Samuel) and both defenses built around elite, dynamic pass rushers.

But if the Rams (14-5) don’t overcome the 49ers’ maddening mastery over them, all their big moves will end in checkmate.

San Francisco has won six consecutive meetings with Los Angeles, and not much in their first two meetings this season suggested Rams coach Sean McVay is close to clearing the monumental mental block separating him from his good friend, Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers feel a related urgency heading back to SoFi Stadium, where they roared back from an early 17-point deficit and surged to yet another impressive victory over their California archrivals just three weeks ago — clinching a playoff berth, no less.

In fact, San Francisco might owe its entire season to its domination of the Rams: The Niners were 3-5 and going nowhere when they routed Los Angeles in mid-November, kicking off their current 9-2 surge.

If the Rams fall again Sunday, the disappointment will be crushing, but Donald thinks they’re ready to shoulder the weight.

“This is a different type of football here that’s going on this week,” he said. “This week, my mindset is there’s no way we’re going to lose this game. We have to play four quarters. We have to find a way to finish, and I know we’re going to do that.”


Shanahan has won seven of his 10 meetings with McVay in their concurrent half-decade careers. Preparing for this showdown was no challenge for both coaches, and they say execution will win the NFC title, not trick plays or surprises.

“You know each other so well,” Shanahan said. “We knew what the tape was going to look like before we turned it on, and they are the exact same way. … We are going to see who makes the most plays and who makes the least mistakes.”

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The 49ers’ formula for beating the Rams has been fairly simple.

San Francisco generates four-man pressure from its vicious defensive front to slow LA’s offense. When the Niners have the ball, Jimmy Garoppolo executes a quick-hit passing game designed to avoid the Rams’ vaunted pass rush while exploiting Los Angeles’ unimpressive linebackers and safeties in coverage.

McVay and his players know all of this. Whether they have any correct answers to the same test they’ve already failed twice this year will be revealed Sunday.


San Francisco’s defensive front four has been dominant recently, generating five sacks three weeks ago against the Rams, and again in both playoff games. Arik Armstead has 5 1/2 sacks, and Nick Bosa got three. The Niners’ depth up front has been difficult to match: San Francisco is the first team to have back-to-back playoff games with at least five sacks in the same season since Washington did it in the 1991 playoffs on the way to the title. The only team ever to do it three straight times in a season was Washington in the 1987 playoffs, also on the way to a championship.

“Usually the teams at this point in the year all have good pass rushes,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s pretty hard to get to this point when you don’t have one.”


Stafford earned his first two career playoff victories over the past two weeks, playing nearly flawlessly and justifying his move to LA after a dozen seasons in Detroit. But he has never beaten Garoppolo, the much-maligned San Francisco passer whose occasional mistakes haven’t stopped him from going 4-1 as a starter in his playoff career and 3-0 against Stafford.


The Niners will become the first team to play 12 road games in a single season on Sunday. After winning eight of the first 11, they can become the first team to win road games in four straight weeks since Kansas City did it in the 1966 season in the AFL.

The winning stretch started with a Week 18 victory in Inglewood where they had so many of their own fans at the game that the Rams needed to use a silent count on offense at times. The Niners are hoping for a repeat on Sunday.

“Hopefully we’ll have a sea of red down at SoFi and turn it into Levi’s South,” kicker Robbie Gould said.

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Proposed Trade Ships Baker Mayfield to Rebuilding NFC West Squad

Getty Images Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns have yet to find a trade partner to take on quarterback Baker Mayfield and his hefty contract, but multiple teams — including the Seattle Seahawks — have been rumored to still be probing the situation.

The Seahawks were proposed as a trade suitor for Mayfield in a recent article by Bleacher Report, which has the Browns fetching a pair of third-round picks — one in 2023 and another in 2024 — for Mayfield. Here’s what B/R’s Jake Rill had to say about the deal:

It’s hard to completely rule the Seahawks out of the Mayfield picture. They no longer have Russell Wilson, who they traded to the Denver Broncos earlier this offseason. If the season started today, then Drew Lock would likely be Seattle’s starting QB, with Geno Smith and Jacob Eason also on the depth chart.

Mayfield is better than all of those quarterbacks, and he could potentially thrive in an offense that features wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, as well as tight end Noah Fant. That situation could possibly allow Mayfield to take his game to another level.

Any return in a Mayfield trade is contingent on how much of his near $19 million salary the Browns are willing to take on. It’s been clear so far that teams realize the Browns have little to no leverage and aren’t willing to do Cleveland any favors.

Seahawks Have Shot Down Trade Rumors Play
Pete Carroll doesn’t see Seattle Seahawks trading for veteran QB | Pro Football Talk | NBC SportsMike Florio and Chris Simms assess whether Geno Smith has the edge over Drew Lock at QB and explain why the Seahawks are sending a message to the Browns that they won’t give up anything of value for Baker Mayfield. #NBCSports #ProFootballTalk #PeteCarroll » Subscribe to NBC Sports: » Watch Pro Football Talk live…2022-05-09T17:30:01Z

While the Seahawks are a logical destination, head coach Pete Carroll has pushed back against rumors that they might land a quarterback via trade.

“We’re always competing,” Carroll said during a May 5 interview with Sports Radio 93.3 KJR-FM. “I’m not saying anything you didn’t think I was going to say, but fortunately that’s always been the way we’ve operated, and it fits again. So we’re looking. I don’t see us making a trade for anybody at all. I don’t see that happening. But we’re certainly going to continue to be open to chances to help our club, and meanwhile we’re just going to be battling and competing our tails off. There’s always possibilities, so we keep open to that.”

Mayfield would seemingly be a significant upgrade from Lock and Smith, despite coming off a down year.

He set the rookie touchdown record during his first season and went on to lead the Browns to their first postseason berth in nearly two decades in 2020. However, last season Mayfield tossed just 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, slumping down the stretch as he dealt with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.

“I had great times my rookie year. I didn’t start in the beginning. I came in and had fun in the back half of the year. 2019 sucked. 2020 was great, made the playoffs. 2021 was miserable,” Mayfield said during an appearance on the Ya Never Know: You know What I Mean? podcast in April. “I’m just looking for stabilization right now.”

Panthers Have Not Closed Door on Baker Mayfield

While the Seahawks have not been as publicly warm on adding a quarterback, the Panthers made clear this week that they’d be open to bringing on a new passer.

“We want to have a really strong quarterback room,” coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Friday during rookie minicamp, “so I don’t think we would say no to a veteran at this point.”

The Panthers drafted Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round of this year’s draft but likely are viewing him more as a developmental quarterback. A year of Mayfield could be beneficial for both parties, with the former No. 1 overall pick being able to prove to teams he’s still got it heading into free agency.

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