The backups came to the rescue for the Minnesota Vikings today.
Jeff George threw for three touchdowns and Leroy Hoard rushed for 105 yards and a score in the Vikings' 40-16 romp over the San Francisco 49ers, who lost their third straight game for the first time since 1980.
Both teams are 3-4, but while the 49ers look lost without their starting quarterback, best running back and go-to receiver, the Vikings appear rejuvenated under Hoard, who subbed for injured starter Robert Smith, and George, who replaced Randall Cunningham.
"Unless you want to be 2-5, you've got to step on the gas a little bit," said Hoard, carrying the load with Smith out up to six weeks following a hernia operation. The 49ers' preoccupation with the passing game backfired when Hoard averaged 6.2 yards on 17 carries.
"They put in six defensive backs and we spread them out. There were no people in the middle to defend the run," wide receiver Cris Carter said.
Hoard, however, had a first-half fumble returned 71 yards for a score and George wasn't infallible, either. But they both helped turn around Minnesota's slumping offense while reinvigorating their own careers.
"That was the offense we've been looking for the whole year," Vikings owner Red McCombs said.
Randy Moss was limited to one catch but he opened up the offense by drawing double and triple coverage. "I'd say we did have the fire today," Moss said.
George threw an interception that was caught in the end zone and didn't even try to chase down Darnell Walker on his touchdown return of Hoard's fumble. But he was 15 of 28 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Matthew Hatchette.
George also hit Carter for a two-yard scoring strike and Andrew Jordan from seven yards out to go with Hoard's one-yard touchdown and Moe Williams's nine-yard scoring run. Minnesota surpassed 24 points for the first time this season after not scoring fewer than 24 all of last year.