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Brian O’Neill and Vikings advance in NFL playoffs

The Pitt alum played a key role in the NFC North team’s success

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints by a score of 26-20 in a tight and contentious game in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs that was decided in overtime, and former Pitt offensive lineman Brian O’Neill played a key role in the Vikings’ success.

Given the part he played in Minnesota's victory, O’Neill was also a highly visible participant in the team’s celebrations on the field and in the locker room after the game.

The matchup had its highs and lows for O’Neill, as he enjoyed a solid first half but was called for holding on the Vikings’ first offensive play of the third quarter. In addition, he appeared to suffer an injury during a Saints blitz on the Vikings’ next drive but still managed to offer enough protection for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to complete a 34-yard pass to Vikings receiver Adam Thielen.

The apparent injury was to O’Neill’s leg, and the issue only sidelined him briefly. He was spelled by Vikings lineman Rashod Hill at right tackle and returned to action shortly thereafter. Upon his return, he continued to have success against Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. However, late in the fourth quarter, he allowed Jordan to tally a sack. It would be his only big splash in the Vikings’ backfield on Sunday.

O’Neill also had success in run protection, as he consistently opened up lanes for Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who accrued 130 yards from scrimmage on Sunday. And most importantly, the second-year lineman had no trouble fending off Jordan on the game-winning play, which was a four-yard pass from Cousins to Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.

With the first-round win, the Pitt product and the Vikings advance to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, where they will meet the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. That matchup will pit O’Neill against fellow Pitt alum K’Wuan Williams, a starter at nickelback for the 49ers who ranks second on his team in interceptions with two on the season. The Vikings and 49ers will face off at 4:35 p.m. ET on Saturday.