The way Darrin Nelson tells it, Darrell Green's pointy shoulder caused him to drop the biggest pass of yesterday's NFC championship game. Of course, replays might prove otherwise, considering the ball seemed to be coming out of Nelson's breadbasket before Green made impact.

The point is, Green, the Washington Redskins' cornerback, wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the football. And he wouldn't have been if Nelson's Minnesota Vikings teammate, wide receiver Anthony Carter, had run the right pattern.

At the time, it was fourth down and four at the Redskins' 6-yard line. Trailing by seven points with 56 seconds left, Vikings offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker called "Smoke 83 Option," in which Carter basically is a decoy. He runs a "fade" or an "out" pattern to the corner of the end zone, leaving the running back (Nelson) one on one with a linebacker (Monte Coleman). Nelson beat Coleman with a move to the outside, and he should've been all by his lonesome.

But Green smacked him, and the Redskins were Super Bowl-bound.

Carter, it seems, had broken his pattern.

"I was supposed to just run a fade, clearing it out for the option man {Nelson}," Carter explained. "I knew I could beat {Green} on that particular {fade} route, but I just tried to get him thinking I was going for the fade and I'd come back for the option."

What he did was bring Green into Nelson's arm space.

"Anything could've happened on that play," said Carter, not fully understanding what he'd done wrong. "It can bounce right into my hands or something if I'm near Nelson."

The result spoiled the drive, one that could have ranked up there with Denver's sensational 98-yarder that tied Cleveland a year ago in the AFC title game. The Vikings took over at their own 33-yard line with 5:04 to play. The Redskins scrambled back into a zone.

"They had to," Carter said, implying the Redskins couldn't cover him with one man.

The first play was a simple crossing pattern over the middle, and quarterback Wade Wilson threw it so well that wide receiver Leo Lewis had no choice but to hold on. Gain: 14 yards.

A minute later, the Vikings faced third and two at the Washington 45. Wilson hit Carter on another cross for another first down. Green made the tackle and fell on Carter's ankle, evoking a scream from the Vikings receiver. Carter limped off the field with 3:12 remaining.

So Wilson calmly found Nelson for nine yards. It was second and one at the Washington 28 as both teams took the two-minute warning.

Immediately, Carter was back, but he didn't run very well on Alfred Anderson's first-down carry.

"My ankle was bothering me a little bit, but in a game like that, you've got to go," Carter said.

The Vikings said the Redskins surprised them with blitzes all day, and it happened again on first and 10 from the Washington 23. Linebacker Kurt Gouveia got in Wilson's facemask, and Wilson threw an incomplete pass behind tight end Steve Jordan. But Carter again split the Washington zone on another crossing pattern for another first down. Suddenly, it was first and 10 at the Redskins' 12 with 1:12 remaining.

"They gave Green help on me," Carter said. "I guess Green was hurting {with sore ribs} more than they anticipated and needed more help."

On first down, Carter ran another crossing pattern, for what seemed like the millionth time. It gained six yards. Neal Olkewicz came with the surprising blitz on second down and four from the 6, and Wilson threw it away.

"They brought one guy {Olkewicz} that we couldn't account for in our blocking scheme," Wilson said.

On third down, the Vikings tried another crossing route, where Leo Lewis was supposed to pick Carter's man (Green). "They were just jammed up big time," Wilson explained.

Wilson was going to throw it out of bounds on the left side of the end zone, but he saw Jordan wide open. "I saw him, and I tried to guide it down a little bit," Wilson said. "I just couldn't believe I overthrew him that far."

The incompletion brought fourth down. Wilson said he might have called more audibles, but it was so loud at RFK Stadium that his teammates couldn't hear. Schnelker called the "Smoke 83 Option," and Wilson had no choice but to use it.

As he heard the call, Carter said he was upset. "It {the 83 option} was just a play that he {Schnelker} thought maybe would work or something," said Carter. "I felt maybe I could try to beat Darrell {Green} on a fade and then stop and plant real hard and come back to the ball, which would've been a good play. It's a play we used to have when Burnsy {head coach Jerry Burns} used to be offensive coordinator. But Schnelker has a different philosophy, and the play was to Nelson."

Nelson was asked whether he should've caught it, and said, "I'll have to look and see {the films}. I touched it, so I probably should've . . . But I got hit as soon as the ball got there."

And Nelson admitted surprise at seeing Carter so close to him.

"After the {pass} was over," Nelson said, "Anthony looked at me, and seemed to think he was supposed to catch the ball."