MINNEAPOLIS — The backups came to the rescue for the Minnesota Vikings.
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 consecutive 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 because of a hernia operation.
The 49ers' preoccupation with the passing game backfired when Hoard averaged 6.2 yards in 17 carries.
"They put in six defensive backs and we spread them out. There were no people in the middle to defend the run," Viking receiver Cris Carter said.
It wasn't all rosy for Hoard, whose first-half fumble was returned 71 yards for a score. George wasn't infallible, either. But they both helped turn around Minnesota's slumping offense while reinvigorating their careers.
Randy Moss was limited to one catch but he opened up the offense by drawing double and triple coverage.
George completed 15 of 28 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Matthew Hatchette.
George also passed to Carter for a two-yard touchdown and Andrew Jordan for a seven-yard touchdown to go with Hoard's one-yard touchdown and Moe Williams' nine-yard scoring run. Minnesota surpassed 24 points for the first time after not scoring fewer than 24 last season.
The switch in quarterbacks had an immediate effect on the Vikings, who had a spirited week of practice.
"When you have a great week of practice, Sundays are fun," George said. "The hard work is over."
John Randle's first career interception--at the 49er 15 with only three seconds left in the first half--set up Gary Anderson's 33-yard field goal that gave the Vikings a 24-13 lead. Randle anticipated a screen by Jeff Garcia, who fell to 1-3 in place of injured Steve Young.
"We're entering into a place we've never been before," San Francisco Coach Steve Mariucci said. "We have so much work to do. It'll take us a couple weeks to straighten it out."
San Francisco strong safety Tim McDonald, who bruised his right shoulder and got a concussion in the first half, was joined on the sideline by free safety Lance Shulters, who sprained his ankle when he was blocked by Moss on Minnesota's last scoring drive.
Shulters said he wanted to fight Moss.
"I'm going to get him," Shulters said. "We're going to see them again, mark my words. He thought it was funny, he thought it was a joke."