NEW ORLEANS, JAN. 4 -- The play was called "Squadron-Left, All-Fly" -- something George Patton might phone in from the press box.

Mission was accomplished when Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Hassan Jones, a former all-state basketball player, outrebounded the New Orleans Saints' Johnnie Poe and Brett Maxie for a touchdown. As "Hail Mary" plays go, this one was hailed as a gamebreaker. It occurred with no time left in the first half of Sunday's NFC wild-card game. The Saints, suddenly trailing, 31-10, were left with just about no chance of winning.

The final score was 44-10, about as major an upset as there is, considering the Vikings were eight-point underdogs and likened to dogs by their hometown newspaper. Dan Barreiro, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, wrote that the Vikings should do the "honorable" thing and not show up Sunday. However, they did show up, as the Saints well know.

The Vikings have come quite far in their three seasons under Coach Jerry Burns and perhaps even further than that in the last seven days. After the Vikings failed to clinch a playoff spot against the Redskins on Dec. 26, critics talked about their inability to put teams away, something more commonly referred to as a lack of "killer instinct."

Burns angrily defended his team a few days later, spewing out precisely 35 expletives in four minutes.

Anyway, Keith Millard, the Vikings' big defensive tackle, said the Redskins loss "rejuvenated us."

"It's always been if things don't go our way, we get down on ourselves emotionally," Millard said after Sunday's victory. "{After losing to the Redskins}, we decided we wouldn't try to prove to anybody but ourselves that we were playoff contenders. I felt if we played our best, we could beat {the Saints}, though I didn't expect a blowout."

The San Francisco 49ers -- Minnesota's next opponent -- must now take the Vikings with a straight face. The Vikings would have made the playoffs in 1986, had it not been for an overtime loss to Washington and a loss to the Giants after New York converted a fourth and 17 with less than two minutes left to play.

And had it not been for the strike and a close loss at home to the Bears this year, the Vikings probably would have won the NFC Central Division. Winless in replacement games, Minnesota went 8-7 during the regular season and is only a healthy quarterback away from being a solid Super Bowl contender. Kramer and Wade Wilson were both injured in Sunday's victory, and Burns hasn't decided on a starter for the 49ers.

"{The Vikings} are definitely one of the better teams we've played this year," Saints guard Brad Edelman admitted.

As for the Saints, they are laughable once more. It took them 21 years to reach the playoffs, and they'd waited all that time for this?

In a way, the Saints are proud of their ridiculous past. Archie Manning, their longtime quarterback, was asked about some of the Saints' former coaches, and he answered:

"We had some beauties. I won't name names, but we were playing Buffalo one time, and O.J. Simpson takes a handoff and goes left for eight yards. On the second play, he goes four yards right. On the third play, he goes 40 yards on a trap play right past the coach. The guy says, 'Damn, I don't know who that No. 32 guy is, but he's a pretty good running back.' "

The newest joke is "Squadron-Left, All-Fly." But that won't be funny here for another 21 years or so.