SANTA CLARA, Calif. – An illegal hit by 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa knocked Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill from Saturday’s 27-10 playoff loss during the third quarter, inciting strong reaction from coaches and players during and after the game.
“I didn’t see the hit, I just heard they said it was a cheap shot,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “which I think it was.”
Bosa, who had two sacks on quarterback Kirk Cousins and a pass deflection, delivered a blindside blow to O’Neill as he was turned back toward Cousins during an interception by San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman. O’Neill did not return after being evaluated for a concussion.
One Vikings player claimed Bosa wasn’t ejected because of his stardom as a budding pass rusher. Bosa could incur an NFL fine for the hit on O’Neill, who was replaced by Rashod Hill.
“You just don’t do that,” Hill said.
Entering Saturday, O’Neill had played the second-most snaps in the Vikings offense this season (94.9%), trailing only center Garrett Bradbury. O’Neill did not miss a start during his impressive second NFL season, during which he ranked fourth among tackles allowing only 20 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Griffen’s uncertain future
Defensive end Everson Griffen, the Vikings’ longest-tenured player, might have played his final game for Minnesota, as his contract is voidable based on performance benchmarks.
Griffen appeared to get emotional and cut short his news conference in the middle of an answer about moving forward, saying, “I’m done, man.” Griffen, 32, doesn’t have any guaranteed money left on his contract.
“I don’t know anything about his situation, but he’s been everything to me,” defensive end Danielle Hunter said. “He’s a big part of the player I am today. He means a lot to me.”
Two of the three finalists for the Cleveland Browns head coaching position were on the field Saturday.
Various media outlets have reported that Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh are finalists, along with Patriots offensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Josh McDaniels.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is expected to hire a coach before he hires a general manager. The Browns fired coach Freddie Kitchens after one season; Stefanski was a finalist for the job a year ago as well.
Diggs TD gets CB benched
Coming off a first-round bye, the 49ers returned four contributors — linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive lineman Dee Ford, guard Mike Person and safety Jaquiski Tartt — to the lineup, but one starter was pulled from the game after Stefon Diggs’ 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
San Francisco’s coaching staff benched cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon after he was burned for multiple catches and flagged for defensive pass interference while covering Diggs in the first quarter. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley replaced Witherspoon and had one pass deflection.
Marcus Sherels, the Vikings’ all-time leading punt returner, likely took one of his last snaps for the franchise on a muffed punt at the end of the third quarter. It was Sherels’ second muffed punt on Saturday but the first lost deep in his own territory. The 49ers took a 27-10 lead off a field goal shortly afterward.
“Well, the wind played a factor in there,” Zimmer said. “I figured it would.”
Sherels, the former Gophers and Rochester John Marshall player re-signed Jan. 3 to replace injured Mike Hughes, had one fair catch and the two muffed punts Saturday. He will be a free agent again in March.
• The Vikings reportedly worked out 41-year-old retired cornerback Terence Newman, who was most recently an assistant coach during the 2018 season, before deciding to promote rookie defensive back Nate Meadors before Saturday’s game, according to ESPN.
• The Vikings converted a pair of third-and-2 situations on their early touchdown drive but otherwise went 0-for-10 in the pivotal situations. A stalled running game kept Cousins and company constantly behind the sticks and at will of the 49ers pass rush. Cousins was sacked six times.
• NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance at Levi’s Stadium, where he was spotted chatting with San Francisco legends Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, among others, before kickoff.