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Win Helps Vikings Linemen Honor Sparano's Memory

On what would have been his 57th birthday, Tony Sparano's players worked on the field to honor their former offensive line coach.

The Vikings defeated the Eagles 23-21 in their first return to Philadelphia since January, when they lost in the NFC Championship Game.

The win was an emotional one where the offensive linemen were last coached in a game by Sparano, who passed away unexpectedly on July 22.

"We realized it was Tony's birthday, and I had it in the back of my head that 'I've got to do what I've got to do for Tony.' He's still missed," said Vikings right tackle Rashod Hill. "He's a friend and mentor to me. I'm glad we got a win for his birthday. I know he would have been proud of us today."

Hill said he felt like the unit handled the Eagles "pretty good" in a game where the Vikings never lost the lead.

"Of course, they've got a real good defense, especially at rushing the passer," Hill said.

The Vikings protected quarterback Kirk Cousins for most of the afternoon, helping him finish the day 30-of-37 passing for 301 yards and a touchdown. Cousins' passer rating was 109.6.

And although Minnesota's run game still struggled to really get going, the Vikings did total 77 yards on the ground against a Philadelphia run defense that had previously allowed opponents an average of just 63.8 rushing yards.

"For the most part, I thought we protected pretty well today," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

When Riley Reiff left the game with a foot injury, Hill slid over to left tackle, and rookie Brian O'Neill stepped in at right tackle.

Zimmer said after the game that he thought O'Neill looked good in the glimpses he got of the second-round draft pick.

"I didn't watch him too much. But the times I saw him, he did well. You guys probably see things a lot better than I do," Zimmer told media members. "I'm on the sideline and trying to look at all these different things – formations and defenses and play calls and all kinds of stuff.

"You and Pro Football Focus would be better than me," Zimmer quipped. "At this point, anyway."

Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo, who worked with Sparano in Oakland in 2013 and 2014 and has spoken of Sparano's fingerprints on his work, received one of two game balls from Zimmer Sunday night.

"Since the day I got here, fellas, you've done nothing but buy-in and believe," DeFilippo said in the locker room postgame. "I tell you, this is the best group of working guys I've ever been around. It's an honor to coach you guys every week and watch you guys get better every week. I can't wait — hey, a lot more after this, OK?"

As the Vikings prepared to head back home after improving their record to 2-2-1 on the season, they know they would have made Sparano proud.

"I saw this morning that it was his birthday, and I was just thinking about him as we were out there taking the victory, how pumped and excited he would have been on the sideline," said right guard Mike Remmers. "I know he's up there, looking down on us. I know he's got a big grin on his face. It was really special to get a 'W' on his birthday."

View images as the Vikings take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

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