SAN FRANCISCO, JAN. 10 -- Minnesota Vikings Coach Jerry Burns will tell you in a minute he's no mathematical whiz. But one numerical phenomenon truly made no sense to him, going into Saturday's game with the San Francisco 49ers.

"Last week when the playoffs started, the oddsmakers said we were 50-to-1 shots to win the Super Bowl," Burns said. "And even though the playoff field was reduced by two after the wild-card games, we went to 75 to 1. I don't understand that."

Well, the odds were just about as long that the Vikings defense would be able to stop Joe Montana-to-Jerry Rice, an invincible passing combination that decimated the NFL through the regular season. But Minnesota's ability to do just that was probably the most shocking component of the Vikings' 36-24 upset on Saturday.

With all due respect to Anthony Carter's playoff-record 227 receiving yards for the Vikings, the Minnesota defense may have turned in the stats of the day. Montana, who threw 31 touchdown passes to only 13 interceptions and completed a career-high 66 percent in the regular season, connected on only 12 of 26.

And Rice, who grabbed a league-record 22 touchdown passes in only 12 games, caught only three passes for 28 yards. His streak of 13 consecutive games with at least one touchdown catch was broken.

Rarely does a defensive team decide a wide receiver is the player it has to stop to win. But Rice has had that effect on the league this season, and that's the decision Burns made.

"The way to stop {Rice}," Burns said he told his team before the game, "is to pressure the quarterback. He can be the greatest receiver in the world, but if you can't get the ball to him he can't accumulate a helluva lot of yardage."

Sounds great, but no one could do it all year. Cleveland, with the AFC's No. 1 defense, couldn't. Neither could Chicago, whose defense at the time was ranked No. 1 in the NFL.

The Vikings explained that they wouldn't ask their defensive backs to do all the work and they wouldn't ask their linebackers to blitz. "We laid it all on our front line," Burns said. The Vikings would simply line up their four down linemen and beat their San Francisco counterparts.

"Of course, Joe is still a great passer," said right end Chris Doleman, who had two of his team's four sacks against the 49ers. "But you no longer want Joe {at age 31} getting hit by guys who weigh nearly 100 pounds more than he does. He has to stay in the pocket more than he used to. If San Francisco could keep us off Montana, the game would be over. No defensive back in the world can cover Jerry Rice all day long without pressure."

Doleman, right tackle Keith Millard, left tackle Henry Thomas and left end Doug Martin tried to get a hand or two in Montana's face every down and hit him whenever possible. The four sacks hardly told the story.

Doleman said Friday that San Francisco's 300-pound left tackle Bubba Paris couldn't block him, then proved it. "Bubba worked on himself as much as I did," said Doleman, a 260-pounder drafted three years ago as a linebacker because of his quickness.

Paris and Doleman mixed it up in near fights much of the first half, and it looked as if Doleman kept backing off. "The toughest thing to do is fight in a football uniform," Doleman said. "Bubba must really weigh about 350 pounds, and he kept expending so much energy pushing me. It was easy for me just to give way and backpedal.

"Before halftime he was gasping and all out of breath."

And before halftime, Doleman was getting in on Montana almost every play. So was Millard. And without blitzing, it left seven defenders (three linebackers and four backs) free to drop back into coverage.

Cornerback Issiac Holt, who played at Alcorn State, was one of those. And although Holt was usually getting help from a safety (sometimes Pro-Bowler Joey Browner), Holt was primarily responsible for Rice. The NFC offensive player of the year didn't catch a pass until a minute remained in the first half. His longest reception was for 13 yards.

Rice said his hamstrings and back ached because he practiced too hard during the off week, and some 49ers coaches agreed. But Rice was quick to add that it was his fault for not "reaching deep within to overcome" something like that in a playoff game.

At Alcorn, Holt had to cover Rice when he played for Mississippi Valley State. When both were seniors, Holt held Rice to three receptions, a three-year low.

"He's all-world," Holt said, "but having played him three times in college gave me an inner confidence. It's tough to hit a receiver deep, though, even Jerry, when your quarterback is under so much pressure."

With no way to relieve that pressure, 49ers Coach Bill Walsh went to backup quarterback Steve Young midway through the third quarter, with Minnesota ahead, 27-10. It was the first benching in Montana's nine-year career.

"It made me a little heartsick to be pulled out of a game, especially a game like this," Montana said. But he agreed with Walsh it was time for Young to go in if the 49ers were to have any chance to come back. Young did rush for 72 yards in only six carries, ran for one touchdown and threw for another.

What the Young-for-Montana switch means for the 49ers in the immediate future is unclear. Off and on over the last four games of the regular season, Young made some devastating plays to lead San Francisco's 124-7 assault against the Bears, Atlanta and the Rams.

But Dwight Clark, Montana's best friend and his top receiver for most of the nine years they've been together, criticized Walsh for benching Montana.

"It was bull," Clark said. "I don't know Bill's total package for the future {Clark is probably going to retire}, but I don't see how you can put the best quarterback in the NFL on the bench."

Walsh, fully aware he was creating his own quarterback controversy, did say, "You have to go with your all-pro quarterback as long as we did, maybe longer. The move to Steve was intended to be put on the back burner. I told Joe we had to try to change the chemistry, but you can't say that was the answer."

So the 49ers, who compiled a league-best 13-2 record over the regular season, a team that became the first since the 1977 Dallas Cowboys to finish atop the league in offense and defense statistically, lost at home when it appeared they were bound for a third Super Bowl title this decade.

Instead, the 49ers suffered their third consecutive opening-round defeat in the playoffs. And Montana's zero-touchdown, eight-interception performance in those three games will surely have some people suggesting that Young be given a long look immediately.

But spring minicamp is a long way off, and it will take time before shock completely gives way to self-analysis.

"We are shocked," Young said. "We were favored to keep winning, but it was for all the right reasons. We kept getting better every week, and we beat the teams that also made the playoffs {Bears and Browns, among others}. It's a difficult thing to accept."

Minnesota 3 17 10 6 36 San Francisco 3 0 14 7 24

First Quarter

M -- FG C. Nelson 21, 5:43

SF -- FG Wersching 43, 13:23 Second Quarter

M -- Hilton 7 pass from W. Wilson (C. Nelson kick), 2:34

M -- FG C. Nelson 23, 6:33

M -- Rutland 45 interception return (C. Nelson kick), 7:24 Third Quarter

SF -- Fuller 48 interception return (Wersching kick), 1:42

M -- Jones 5 pass from W. Wilson (C. Nelson kick), 4:45

SF -- Young 5 run (Wersching kick), 10:59

M -- FG C. Nelson 40, 13:38 Fourth Quarter

M -- FG C. Nelson 46, 3:21

SF -- Frank 16 pass from Young (Wersching kick), 11:18

M -- FG C. Nelson 23, 14:33

A -- 62,547 Vikings 49ers First downs 22 17 Rushes-yards 34-117 18-115 Passing yards 280 243 Passing 20-34-1 24-44-2 Sacked-yards lost 2-18 4-24 Punts-average 5-37 6-41 Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0 Penalties-yards 2-20 8-75 Time of possession 3

RUSHING -- Minnesota: D. Nelson 11-42, W. Wilson 6-30, Carter 1-30, Anderson 7-9, A. Rice 6-8, Dozier 3-min

PASSING -- Minnesota: W. Wilson 20-34-1, 298 yards. San Francisco: Montana 12-26-1, 109, Young 12-17-1, 158

RECEIVING -- Minnesota: Carter 10-227, A. Rice 4-39, D. Nelson 2-17, Hilton 1-7, H. Jones 1-5, Lewis 1-5, A

MISSED FIELD GOALS -- San Francisco: Wersching 26, 48.