If only life were a video game that Aaron Donald controlled.
This one was played out through "Madden NFL 17" on Thursday, within the Microsoft store in Century City for the first round of the Xbox NFL Player Charity Challenge, an eight-man, bracket-style tournament that provides $51,000 and Microsoft products for the winner's favorite charity. Donald -- who will contribute to the Make-A-Wish Foundation if he can endure -- made quick work of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who played from a mall in Miami.
In the physical world, however, things haven't been so pleasant. Donald's real Rams entered their current bye week on a three-game losing streak that immediately followed a three-game winning streak, pushing them below .500 through seven games for the ninth time in 10 years. They're poised for yet another season mired by mediocrity, despite Donald's continual greatness within the tackles.
"We were on our high horse for a while and got knocked off," Donald said. "This bye week is going to help us a lot, just to clear our minds, get our bodies back and come back recharged. We still have a lot more football left, so we know what to do. We still have the same mindset -- that we need to win games and dominate."
Donald will play the winner between the Panthers' Greg Olsen and the Broncos' Von Miller on Nov. 29. The Rams' defensive tackle plays a lot of Madden, as you might expect. He does it mostly online, and usually he'll pick the Green Bay Packers because, as Donald said, "I'm an Aaron Rodgers guy." But he made sure to pick the Rams on this day. He chose their throwback uniforms -- "I love the colors," Donald said -- and he stayed away from a quarterback controversy.
Keenum started, and Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick, remained on the bench, even in virtual reality.
Donald watched Goff take actual first-team snaps on Wednesday and said he's "looking good." But even he can't tell if Goff, exactly two weeks removed from his 22nd birthday, is ready to start games in the NFL.
"It’s a whole different world once you get into games," Donald said. "You have people actually trying to hit you, the speed of the game’s a lot faster, you have a lot of different things you need to check and see. It’s a whole different world up there once game time comes."
In this world, they played three-minute quarters, under the "Pro" setting, and Donald continually beat Tannehill with Austin slant routes. At one point he recorded three consecutive sacks, on another he completed eight consecutive passes. And even though the game had already been decided by the final minutes, Donald kept hammering away, going for two, putting together a final drive and squeezing every point he could out of this endlessly flawed Rams offense.
In nine days, the real games will start again, beginning with a four-week stretch against teams that are a combined 8-18.
In nine days, the Rams must start to turn their season around.
"We still have a lot of football left," Donald said. "You just have to keep playing. Once you start worrying about things, you get down about yourself, whatever it may be. You just have to keep your same mindset, keep playing at a hundred miles per hour."