SAN FRANCISCO, JAN. 9 -- The most important words spoken by a Minnesota Viking were uttered a month ago, when receiver Anthony Carter went to the Minnesota coaches and said, in effect, "If you're not going to use me, trade me."

Carter caught only 38 passes in 12 games this season, but the Vikings wised-up and Carter has caught 16 passes the last two games. It is not a coincidence that the Vikings, now relying heavily on their most versatile offensive player, have won two playoff games, including today's 36-24 upset of the San Francisco 49ers.

When asked to recall what he told Coach Jerry Burns, Carter said today, "I told him that two or three catches a game ain't gonna get it."

Ten catches today against the 49ers accounted for 227 yards, an NFL playoff record. After demanding that the Vikings use him, he has amassed 500 yards total offense the last two weeks against the Saints and 49ers.

Everybody has the message by now, especially Wade Wilson and Tommy Kramer, the revolving Minnesota quarterbacks. "Getting the ball in A.C.'s hands was the key to beating San Francisco today," Wilson said, half of his 20 completions having gone to Carter. "You get it in his neighborhood and he's going to grab it. He was the most outstanding player on the field, but they kept putting single-coverage on him. I was a little surprised."

Highlights? How about the 63-yard reception in the second quarter that should have been an interception for 49ers cornerback Don Griffin? Carter merely tipped the ball to himself, then took off down the field. The only reason San Francisco's Ronnie Lott caught him was that Carter already had pulled a groin muscle.

Or how about the leaping 40-yard reception late in the third quarter to beat Tim McKyer out of an interception.

The 49ers coaching staff figured that double-covering Carter wasn't necessarily the answer because Leo Lewis was running fly patterns and halfback Darrin Nelson has beaten a lot of teams this season when proper attention isn't paid to him.

A roomful of reporters could hardly believe Jerry Burns when he said after the game that his passing attack would not revolve around one primary receiver.

Lewis was a little more candid. "We're putting more and more emphasis on A.C. each week because he keeps coming up with the phenomenal catches," Lewis said. "During the last four weeks of the season {when Minnesota lost three games} our offense wasn't producing. A.C. had a legitimate gripe.

Carter's 16 receptions in the playoffs are nearly half his regular season total. He said during the week he could be "as good as Jerry Rice" if used in the same manner. And today, he was five times better than Rice if his 10 receptions for Rice's two receptions are any indication.

Carter, who played his first two seasons in the USFL after leaving the University of Michigan, is a man of few words and many moves.

But he had a few more words for Burns early in the game. When Carter came out with the groin pull, Burns told him not to try to be a hero.

"I had to play," Carter said. "I told Coach I couldn't let my teammates down."