MINNEAPOLIS -- With their playoff spot secure, the Minnesot Vikings treated their game against the Green Bay Packers yesterday as an exhibition, in the best sense of the word -- an exhibition of power football, offensive diversity and pride.
On a day they could have treated as an extended holiday, the Vikings routed a Packers team needing a victory for its first playoff berth in 10 years, 27-7, before 61,461 at the Metrodome.
The Vikings out-rushed the Packers, 165 yards to 29, out-gained them overall, 447-211, and ended Green Bay's six-game winning streak. Because of their victory, the Vikings (11-5) will face the Washington Redskins in the first round of the NFC playoffs here Saturday. In their past two visits to the Metrodome, the Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, in the Super Bowl and the Vikings, 15-13, in October.
The Packers (9-7) finished a remarkable, if unfulfilled, season. Coming off a 4-12 record in 1991 and a 2-5 start this year, they nearly made it to postseason.
"It seemed like everybody you heard, from [Chicago Bears coach] Mike Ditka to other people around the league, were saying the Packers were the best team in the division," Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy said. "We wanted to make it clear that we had earned our position. We didn't want to end up tied with them, and getting in because of tiebreaker. We wanted to make things clear."
In his fourth NFL start, the Vikings quarterback Sean Salisbury completed 20 of 33 passes for a career-high 292 yards. More important, he ran the offense the way offensive coordinator Jack Burns wants it run. Salisbury threw to his backs and tight ends, found secondary receivers, tossed two touchdown passes, was sacked just once and didn't throw an interception.
But the Vikings might have won yesterday without a quarterback, their line play was so dominant.
"They sure kicked our butt," Packers linebacker Brian Noble said.
When someone noted the Vikings were without injured receivers Cris Carter and Hassan Jones, Noble said, "You don't need weapons when you're jamming the ball down somebody's throat."
After the Packers took a 7-0 lead on their first drive, when fullback Harry Sydney pounded in from the 2, the Vikings responded by scoring on their next three drives. They tied the score with an eight-play, 79-yard drive that Salisbury ended with a touch pass to the far corner of the end zone that tight end Steve Jordan took in over his shoulder.
On their next possession, the Vikings moved 51 yards in 12 plays, and, after the Packers jumped offside when Fuad Reveiz was lining up for a 51-yard field-goal attempt, Reveiz easily converted a 46-yarder to make it 10-7.
But it was an unlikely hero -- former Redskins tight end Mike Tice -- who ensured Washington will revisit the Metrodome. On second-and-10 from the Packers 34, Salisbury dropped back, was forced to roll left, away from his primary receivers, and found Tice standing along the sideline. Tice, a 6-foot-7 former Maryland quarterback, easily caught Salisbury's high pass. Then Packers cornerback Vinnie Clark missed Tice completely -- apparently misjudging Tice's speed, or lack of it.
"I was waiting for the safety to come over and knock my teeth out," Tice said. "When I saw he wasn't there, I knew it was going to be a cakewalk to get in, even with my exceptional 5.3 speed."
The Vikings added a field goal with a drive late in the first half, and Terry Allen dived from the 1 in the third quarter.
Allen also rushed 20 times for 100 yards. That gave him 1,201 for the season, breaking Chuck Foreman's team record of 1,155 yards rushing in a season, which he set during a 14-game schedule in 1976.
But Allen's record was the stuff of asterisks compared to the one set by Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe. Sharpe caught six passes to give him 108 for the season, breaking Redskins receiver Art Monk's record of 106. But Sharpe, the Packers' game-breaker, managed just 45 yards.
"We wanted to take him away," Dungy said. "He got his catches, but we didn't let him beat us."
Last week, when the Vikings clinched the division title, they celebrated quietly at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. Yesterday, they anointed themselves by dumping ice water on coach Dennis Green.
"I thought it was significant that our guys didn't dump the Gatorade on me last week," Green said. "They knew we had unfinished business, and we took care of that today."
Next up: The Redskins, and all a victory over the defending champs would symbolize.
"Anybody who thinks that there is a favorite in this race, they're making a mistake," Green said of the playoffs. It's wide open. Any of the six teams has a legitimate shot."
Good hands people
The Packers' Sterling Sharpe yesterday broke Redskin Art Monk's season record for receptions. The all-time leaders:
Player .. .. .. .. .. Tm. .. ..Yr. Rec.
Sterling Sharpe .. .. G.B. .. '92 108
Art Monk .. .. .. .. Wash. .. '84 106
Charley Hennigan.. .. Hou. .. '64 101
Lionel Taylor .. .. ..Hou. .. '61 100
Jerry Rice .. .. .. ..S.F. .. '90 100
Haywood Jeffires .. ..Hou. .. '91 100