Like the the handful of recent pass rushers pursuing immortalization in Canton, Ohio, like Houston's J.J. Watt, Kansas City's Justin Huston, former Viking Jared Allen, and former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware — defensive tackle Aaron Donald came up short.
On Sunday, Donald joined the list of quarterback-eating greats who have flirted with former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan's single-season sack record since it was set back in 2001. Entering Week 17, Donald needed 3.0 sacks on 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens to tie Strahan's record 22.5 sacks. A 3.5-sack performance or better would have given Donald the top spot in the statistic — breaking a record that's stood firm for 17 years and counting.
The 2017 AP Defensive Player of the Year and likely repeat recipient of the award brought down Mullens once in the season's final game. Donald earned his first-quarter sack and blew kisses to the L.A. Coliseum crowd with 20.5 sacks under his belt — two from tying the record with three quarters remaining.
Donald, of course, did not reach Strahan's mark. He finished the final game of his fifth professional regular season with 1.0 sack, four tackles, three quarterback hits, and one tackle for loss.
Mullens, who took the field with the chance of winding up on the opposite side of NFL history, said he felt Donald's presence as the record was often literally within reach for No. 99.
"Yeah, I felt him a couple times," Mullens said after the game. "He's a great player and very quick for his size. He causes a lot of problems for a lot of offenses. I think everybody has seen how good of a player he is and we felt him today. He did a good job. He plays with good energy and he's fast. He uses his skillset well."
"I wasn't working to chase it, I was just going out there and playing," Donald said. "Like I said, if it happened it happened, if it didn't it didn't. I was just trying to make as many plays as I can and affect the game and try to come up with a win and we did that."
Donald finished the regular season 13-3 as a member of the NFC West Champion Rams, leading the NFL in sacks (20.5), quarterback hits (41), and tackles for loss (25) — also single-season career highs for the defensive tackle in each category.
"You don't find many guys that get in the twenties," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said last week. "Reggie White had 21.0 [sacks] in 12 games that we had him, but it's a tremendous accomplishment even to get to 19.5 or 20.0. But yeah, it'd be great [for Donald to break the record]. He's obviously deserving of being – what he is, is the Defensive Player of the Year – the best defensive player in the league."
In addition to White, Donald joined the likes of Hall of Fame pass rushers Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, and Chris Doleman in the 20-sack club on Sunday. The Pitt product said he wasn't frustrated during his Week 17 shot at the record, despite one last multi-sack game not at all being out of the realm of possibility.
Look back at Aaron Donald's 20.5 sacks of the 2018 regular season.
Donald came up just short of tying the NFL record for most multi-sack games in a single-season with seven. Another sack on Mullens would have given Donald eight multi-sack games in 2018 and tied Reggie White's record set in 1987. Donald posted a 4.0-sack game against the Niners in Week 7, 3.0 Week 16 in Arizona, and 2.5 against the Seahawks in Week 10.
The Rams' defensive leader became the club's all-time leader in single-season sacks in 2018 and broke the NFL single-season sack record for a defensive tackle. Perhaps one of the most telling stats of Donald's dominance this season is that the pass rusher went without a sack in each of L.A.'s three losses against the Saints, Bears, and Eagles.
When asked about Donald pursuing the elusive 22.5 last week, head coach Sean McVay confirmed the negative correlation when his star goes without a sack, saying if Donald wins, the whole team wins.
Short of the record spanning nearly twenty years, Donald reached the 20-sack mark, helped his team win, and clinched a first-round playoff bye. With a guaranteed shot at playoff sacks and L.A.'s first postseason win since 2003, Donald said things are going as planned.
"We always have a lot of confidence, so we got a whole lot of confidence, but we ain't comfortable," Donald said. "We are right where we need to be, but we just need to keep working, keep getting better and stay hungry."