As the final minutes ticked off the clock, Aaron Donald stood on the sideline trying to fight back tears.
Going into Saturday’s NFC divisional-round playoff game against the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, a Los Angeles Rams defense led by its star defensive tackle had carried the team.
But with Donald limited because of a rib injury, the Rams had no answer for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The leading MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer looked every bit the part, passing for two touchdowns and running for another to send the Rams to a 32-18 defeat before a crowd of 7,439 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
“This defense has been stout and phenomenal all year,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “It’s a tough result and it’s a tough finality of the season.
“But I don’t think it takes away from how great they were and how instrumental they were in us even getting to this point as a team.”
The Packers advanced to the NFC championship game, where they will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Rams’ season ended on a day with temperatures in the mid-30s and light snow.
“I love the scars that we were able to respond from,” McVay said. “There was a lot ebbs and flows this year.”
Most of the high points came courtesy of a defense under the direction of first-year coordinator Brandon Staley. The Rams led the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed. They were first in passing defense and second in sacks.