EAGAN, Minn. — Brian O’Neill made his NFL debut on Sunday, playing 32 snaps at historic Lambeau Field as the Vikings earned a 29-29 tie with Green Bay.
It was certainly a long way from the college game, or even where the Vikings rookie right tackle was a few months ago in spring practices.
O’Neill said after Sunday’s game that he would have to watch the game back to truly evaluate his performance. But the initial impression was positive.
”First thoughts, yeah, I thought I came a long way,” O’Neill said. “But there’s still miles to go.
“I have so many million details I have to worry about to get better and try and improve,” O’Neill said.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on Monday said he liked what he saw from the 2017 second-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh.
“Yeah, he did pretty good,” Zimmer said. “I thought he played well.”
O’Neill entered the game late in the third quarter when right tackle Rashod Hill suffered an ankle injury.
Minnesota trailed 20-7 at the time, but O’Neill’s protection helped Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins lead the comeback charge to send the game to overtime.
With O’Neill in the game, Cousins completed 17 of 24 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
“You could tell he was firing on all cylinders at that point because we’ve practiced that, and it carried over from practice to the game,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill credited his preparation during the week for helping him keep Cousins clean in the pocket.
“For me that was refreshing to have prepared for something, and then being out there and the first play happening and being like, ‘Alright, this is what I prepared for,’ ” O’Neill said.
He also praised center Brett Jones and right guard Mike Remmers for helping him with communication against Green Bay.
“Big credit to Mike [Remmers] and Brett [Jones], their communication to me in the game was spot on. It made it so much easier,” O’Neill said. “Mike was in my ear. He was like: ‘This is where we’re at, this is what we’re doing, this is when we’re going.’
“Having Mike next to me really, really helped,” O’Neill said. “I couldn’t ask for more and thank him enough.”
Zimmer said after the game that he didn’t think Hill’s ankle injury was serious. But if O’Neill has to play Sunday against Buffalo, he will now have some experience under his belt.
A ‘bizarre’ feeling
The Vikings and Packers wrapped up the 116th edition of the Border Battle on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
But for only the third time in the history of the rivalry, the game ended in a tie.
A day after the unique ending, Vikings players said they were still trying to process the emotions of not winning and not losing.
“I don’t know how to feel, honestly,” said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. “It feels like a loss kind of, but I think we did a lot of good things.”
“When you fight that hard and leave it all on the field and it ends in a tie, it almost feels like, ‘Man, what did I sacrifice all that for? That’s probably the hardest part,” Thielen later added. “At least when you lose, you lose. I don’t know how to feel. Am I happy? Am I sad? Am I mad? Am I angry? I don’t know. I’ve never really experience this before.”
Vikings safety Harrison Smith echoed Thielen’s thoughts.
“It’s a weird thing. When you don’t win, it’s not the same,” Smith said. “It’s kind of bizarre, but you learn from it like a win or a loss. You watch the tape and move forward.”
Ups and downs
The Vikings had a disappointing start to the game as Matt Wile’s first punt of the game was blocked and returned for a touchdown.
On Monday, Wile explained the play and how Minnesota’s punting unit responded.
“It’s hard to know what was happening. It was like, ‘Well, uh, there is someone there.’ After that punt, I was just focused on coming back and hitting good punts for the rest of the game,” Wile said. “I trusted the guys and knew they were going to protect me. I never noticed guys getting close to me or anything like that.”
Wile had four punts after the initial one, and averaged 51 yards per punt with two that landed inside the 20-yard line. He also had a 58-yard boot that went into the end zone for a touchback.
“I felt like I’ve hit the ball pretty well,” Wile said. “In the last game, that one long one from the 42(-yard line) … I would have liked to have gotten the ball more to the sideline or a little higher so that we could have covered it in the field of play.
“But otherwise I’ve hit the ball pretty well,” Wile added.