Two teams that have played “musical quarterbacks” all season are starting their former backups again today in a game that could be the last waltz for the loser.
Minnesota and San Francisco play in Candlestick Park for a second time in 1988, with survival again the theme.
The Vikings knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs last January with a 36-24 upset. They could go a long way toward nosing them out for a wild-card berth with a repeat victory.
“It is a very critical, very pivotal game for both clubs,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Burns. “What we’re looking at now in all possibility are wild-card situations, and there are only two of those, so it’s a very critical game.”
The importance of the contest could mean all four quarterbacks who have shared duties for the 5-3 teams this year will see action.
Burns has assigned the first-string role to Wade Wilson over Tommy Kramer for the third time this season. The eighth-year veteran is 1-1 as a starter after helping the Vikings break a three-game offensive slump with 335 yards passing and three touchdown passes last week in a 49-20 victory over Tampa Bay.
Wilson hooked up with wide receiver Anthony Carter on 10 passes for a playoff-record 227 yards last Jan. 9. He finished with 20 completions in 34 attempts for 298 yards and two TDs, with one interception.
Burns wouldn’t mind another aerial show, but he isn’t counting on another “perfect” game from Carter.
“I’m not going to spend the whole day trying to get the ball to Anthony Carter,” the coach said. “We’ve got other people we can get the ball to.”
Tight end Steve Jordan has 29 catches for 457 yards. Running back Allen Rice has 17 catches for 203.
The 49ers have a different dilemma at quarterback.
Joe Montana has been only so-so in the last four games, two of them losses. He had a poor day against the Vikings last January, completing only 12 of 26 passes and having an interception returned for a back-breaking touchdown. But it’s his fragile health--a newly twisted back to go with a sore elbow and ribs--that caused Coach Bill Walsh to decide Friday that Steve Young will start today.
Young is 1-0 as a starter, but only because Montana rescued the 49ers from certain defeat against the New York Giants in the second game with a last-minute, 78-yard TD pass to Jerry Rice. He is 17 of 33 for 169 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, a decline from a 1987 performance in which he outpointed league MVP Montana in the quarterback ratings.
Young pulled a back muscle last Monday in warmups before San Francisco’s 10-9 loss in Chicago, but took snaps with the first unit late this week.
“Steve’s fine,” Walsh said. “If he wants to play, he’ll have to get in sync, get on a roll with the team, which he has not done.”
Minnesota has won three straight over the 49ers, two at Candlestick, since suffering a 51-7 humiliation in San Francisco four years ago.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have another trend going their way. They have a 26-6 record in the season’s second half over the past four seasons. They were 8-0 in 1984, 6-2 in 1985, 5-3 in 1986 and 7-1 in 1987.