The Rams entered halftime with a dangerously small three-point lead. In the blink of an eye to start the third quarter, the Rams found themselves in a four-point hole.
Then came the opportunity for the Bengals to blow it open. An interception on a deflected throw to Rams receiver Ben Skowronek gave Cincinnati the ball on the L.A. 31. The Bengals had the momentum. A touchdown would have given them a double-digit lead, increasing the urgency dramatically (and suddenly) for the Rams offense.
That’s when Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald began cementing his legacy. He got his first sack of the game on the second play of the drive, forcing the Bengals to face third and 11. They converted with a 10-yard pass and an impressive 18-yard scramble on fourth and one by quarterback Joe Burrow, re-establishing the momentum the Bengals enjoyed.
Enter Aaron Donald again. With the Bengals at the 11 and needing three yards on third down for a first and goal, Donald got Burrow again. It forced a field goal that kept the margin to a more psychologically manageable seven points.
Yes, if the Bengals had scored a touchdown on that drive, the rest of the game would have played out differently. But that’s the point. The Rams would have been in a deep hole. Would they have tried to hard to get out of it? Would the floodgates have burst open?
In the stadium, the interception created a palpable sense that it was about to become a boat race. With Aaron Donald singlehandedly keeping that from happening, the Rams kept the difference to seven points when it felt like it should have been worse.
Of all the things that will haunt the Bengals in the coming weeks, months, and years, that drive will stand out. That drive was the opportunity to deliver what wouldn’t have necessarily been the knockout punch, but it would have potentially set it up to happen soon thereafter.