SAN FRANCISCO, JAN. 9 -- What San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo needed was a money-back guarantee. After rewarding his players with $10,000 per man just for making the playoffs, his heavily favored bonus babies fall flat on their fannies today.

The San Francisco 49ers got stuck in the mud of Candlestick Park and never played like a team with the best quarterback, the best receiver, the best offense and best defense in the NFL.

The Minnesota Vikings, who two weeks ago needed help from the Dallas Cowboys just to get into the playoffs, blindsided the 49ers, 36-24, for one of the biggest playoff upsets in years.

After crushing the New Orleans Saints, 44-10, last week in a wild-card game, the Vikings said they were good enough to beat the 49ers and were laughed at. Vikings receiver Anthony Carter said he was as good as Jerry Rice and was laughed at.

The Vikings, apparently, were sick of being laughed at. Minnesota jumped to a 20-3 lead, with Carter leading the way. He went on to catch 10 passes for a playoff-record 227 yards against a San Francisco team that stubbornly -- and unsuccessfully -- tried to stop him with single coverage. And kicker Chuck Nelson made five field goals, setting an NFL postseason record.

San Francisco (13-3), which was 5-0 in home playoff games since Bill Walsh became head coach, had won its previous three games by an aggregate score of 124-7, but could never even get the lead against the Vikings (10-7).

Walsh even benched the NFL's leading passer, Joe Montana, in favor of Steve Young in the third quarter. Young ran for one touchdown and threw for another, but it was too little and far too late to save the 49ers.

So, Minnesota (10-7) advanced to next Sunday's NFC championship game, where the Vikings will play their third straight game on the road, against either the Redskins in Washington or the Bears in Chicago.

"We're flowing free and easy," quarterback Wade Wilson said after completing 20 of 34 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns. "Nobody ever expected us to go to New Orleans and win down there. And certainly nobody expected us to come here to Candlestick and win. This underdog role suits us just fine."

The Vikings' victory today was complete and convincing, whether you're talking about Carter's dominance offensively or Minnesota's ability to rush Montana and thus hold Jerry Rice to three receptions for 28 yards and no touchdowns. Rice, the NFC player of the year, had caught touchdown passes in 13 consecutive games, but not today.

The Vikings returned one of Montana's errant passes for a touchdown, and got the five field goals from Nelson.

Nobody, of course, was more surprised by the turn of events than the 49ers, who suddenly couldn't pass, couldn't run, couldn't play defense, couldn't do much of anything.

"I have to say we were outplayed today," Walsh said. "They were moving quicker, executed better and their skill players had an excellent day. The game was taken away early and we never got in synch. We were just beaten; it's that simple. They made a series of big plays all over the field."

Early or late, it was often Carter providing those plays. Throw a 31-yard end-reverse and 20 yards in punt returns on top of his receiving yards and Carter -- a man who only a month ago was begging to be used more -- compiled 278 total yards.

His three receptions on Minnesota's second offensive series set up Wilson's seven-yard pass to tight end Carl Hilton for a 10-3 Minnesota lead early in the second period.

A 63-yard reception by Carter -- one in which he tipped the ball away from 49ers cornerback Don Griffin -- led to Nelson's 23-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead.

Carter was open all over the field, while Issiac Holt, a Minnesota cornerback, was all over Rice, a man who dominated the regular season with 22 touchdown receptions.

The Vikings' cornerbacks and defensive linemen worked in perfect concert. Chris Doleman, Keith Millard and the Minnesota front four pressured Montana into quick, errant throws, including one that cornerback Reggie Rutland picked off and returned 45 yards for the touchdown that pushed Minnesota's lead to 20-3. Another one of those "big plays" Walsh was talking about.

Montana couldn't get the time and Rice couldn't shake Holt, who had to cover Rice in three games when his Alcorn State team met Rice's Mississippi Valley State team. "{Vikings Coach} Jerry Burns asked me before the game if I could cover Rice," Holt said. "He knew better than to ask me that."

Burns had covered all the angles, pleading with Holt and imploring his defensive linemen to rush Montana. "He told us we had to pressure Joe Montana, because without Joe Montana, there is no Jerry Rice."

Pretty soon, there wasn't even a Montana because Walsh benched him for the more mobile Young. It was the first time in his NFL career Montana has been yanked.

A 48-yard interception return by Jeff Fuller on Wilson's only big mistake of the game got the 49ers within 20-10 early in the third quarter. But Carter's 31-yard end-around run led to Wilson's five-yard touchdown pass to Hassan Jones for a 27-10 lead.

After Young's seven-yard touchdown run got the 49ers back within 10, 27-17, with four minutes still left in the third period, San Francisco still had enough time. But Minnesota had the ball.

A 40-yard reception by Carter on an underthrown pass led to a 40-yard Nelson field goal for a 30-17 lead with a minute left in the third quarter.

DeBartolo's bonuses -- which resulted in a $50,000 fine from the NFL -- could not help now.