Aaron Donald’s timeline of dirty plays: Choking opponents only part of player’s history with Rams

Aaron Donald is undeniably one of the premier defensive players in the NFL, if not the top player in the league.

The eighth-year player has made a Pro Bowl each and every season with the Rams and has seven First-Team All-Pro nods, already (deservingly) earning mentions as among the NFL’s greatest players, regardless of position.

But he also has a noted history of being an overly enthusiastic enforcer, one who has regularly gotten into it with opposing players and, on occasion, NFL officials.

Per Spotrac, Donald has 10 fines over his NFL career for $167,345 — with another potentially incoming after an altercation in the Rams’ wild-card victory over the Cardinals. Barring two roughing the passer penalties, every fine Donald has faced comes as a result of unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct or straight-up fighting opposing players.

While incidents of in-game dirty plays from Donald are sparse, he has nonetheless shown a willingness to place his hands on opposing players once the play is over. That mentality certainly lends itself to creating one of the top NFL defenders of all time. But it has also created a reputation around Donald as a dirty player. Fair or not, he has given credence to such notions with his repeated run-ins against opposing players.

With that, Sporting News breaks down the career timeline of Donald’s dirty plays from 2016 through the present:

Aaron Donald timeline of fines, dirty plays

Sept. 12, 2016: Donald grabs Patton’s neck

Donald did not face his first fine until his third season with the Rams, in their season opener against the 49ers. Donald — by then a two-time Pro Bowler who had received his first All-Pro nod the year prior — had his first notable dirty play on the “Monday Night Football” stage in the 28-0 loss to San Francisco.

The incident occurred midway through the fourth quarter — with the 49ers already owning a sizable 21-0 lead — when Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree shoved quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a two-yard gain. As both teams converged, Donald ran in to grab wide receiver Quinton Patton on the back of his neck. He then shoved Patton away from the pile.

After the altercation, Donald was ejected not only for grabbing Patton’s neck, but also for making contact with an official. Donald then slammed his helmet onto the ground before exiting the field and stadium to a chorus of boos from 49ers fans.

That incident resulted in Donald’s first two fines of his NFL career: $9,115 for unnecessary roughness and $12,154 for unsportsmanlike conduct — a total of $21,269.

Oct. 16, 2016: Donald shoves Stafford on victory kneel

Donald made up for lost fines — er, time — with his second offense just a month after his first. Detroit was lined up in victory formation to run out the clock in what was ultimately a 31-28 win. But Donald charged the line of scrimmage, pushing the Lions’ offensive line into Lions quarterback and future teammate Matthew Stafford as he took a knee.

The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty resulted in an $18,231 fine by the NFL and prompted an apology from then-Rams coach Jeff Fisher to the Lions’ Jim Caldwell.

“We’ll address it and it’s unlikely that it’ll happen again,” Fisher said.

Dec. 15, 2016: Excessive facemask, throwing flag at official

Donald earned his fourth and fifth fines of the 2016 season in a Week 15 loss to the Seahawks. Officials penalized Donald for an excessive facemask in the fourth quarter of the game, which would be another Rams loss. Donald then took the flag and tossed it back to the official, incurring yet another in-game penalty. In all, the Seahawks gained 30 yards from Donald’s frustration.

The Seahawks ultimately did not get any points off the drive but still won convincingly, 24-3. Donald’s two penalties ($24,309 for throwing flag at official and $18,231 for excessive facemask) brought his total for the season up to $82,040.

Oct. 7, 2018: Donald finds Justin Britt after the game

Donald didn’t take kindly to a late hit out of bounds by Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Britt in the late stages of the teams’ Week 5 meeting (a 33-31 Rams win). Donald picked up what was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass late in the fourth quarter, eventually running out of bounds. Britt shoved Donald in the back, incurring a penalty.

Donald retaliated immediately, getting up and wrapping his arms around Britt’s shoulders, grabbing his facemask from behind (the ensuing penalty canceled out Britt’s). After the game, Donald — who had already removed his jersey and shoulder pads — put his helmet on and ran onto the field to confront Britt again, grabbing him by his facemask.

The NFL fined Donald $23,395 for his altercation with Britt. It was his second and final one of the 2018 season after he faced a $20,054 fine for roughing the passer against Derek Carr — for tackling him low — earlier in the year.

Oct. 3, 2020: Donald, Gates get into it

Donald’s only “controversy” of the 2020 season — if you could call it that — was a $21,056 fine for fighting the Giants’ Nick Gates in a Week 4 matchup. After a first-down play by the Giants, Donald and Gates briefly got into it with each other, grabbing the other’s facemasks. Both players were hit with offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties.

Nov. 28, 2021: Donald chokes Packers’ Lucas Patrick

This was the first of two choking incidents during the 2021 season, which occurred near the beginning of the fourth quarter of the Rams’ Week 12 game at the Packers.

Green Bay was looking to extend a 36-25 lead. After a third-down incompletion, cameras caught Donald grabbing Patrick’s throat with his left hand. Patrick held his hands up during the altercation and gestured toward his throat; despite an official watching the incident unfold, however, Donald was not penalized.

That wasn’t the case after the game, when the NFL fined him $10,300 for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Curiously, it was Donald’s second-lowest fine of his career, following the $9,115 unnecessary roughness penalty against San Francisco in 2016.

Jan. 17, 2022: Donald caught choking again

Donald’s second choking incident of the 2021 season was a first for him, of sorts: It could result in his first ever fine from a playoff game. The All-Pro defensive lineman went after Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries on Arizona’s first drive of the second half.

After a long completion to the Rams’ 14-yard line, Donald grabbed Humphries’ facemask — a common move for him in extra-curricular fights — before ripping his helmet off.

Donald could then be seen attempting to grab Humphries’ neck, even reaching for him across his own teammates as they attempted to keep the two players away from each other.

Unlike the previous incident with the Packers, Donald was assessed an in-game penalty. Because it was a dead-ball foul with the Cardinals down at the 14-yard line, Arizona was moved half the distance toward the goal line in what was its only touchdown drive of the game. The Rams won 34-11, though it remains to be seen whether Donald will be fined for his actions in that game.

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