Road 'dogs.

The Bears love that role. Send them on the road, tell them they have no chance to win. Push them to the brink of extinction. And then watch them respond. They were underdogs at Miami in November and knocked off the AFC East champions. They were decided underdogs again in Sunday's NFC wild-card game, but emerged with a 35-18 victory at the Metrodome.

"For some reason, we seem to play better on the road," said veteran defensive back Maurice Douglass.

This young Bears team is going places. And not simply to San Francisco for Saturday's playoff game against the 49ers, favored by 16 points.

Sunday's improbable victory probably will mean more to this club in the next year or two than it will in this postseason.

It was the Bears' first playoff victory since Jan. 6, 1990, and its first road playoff triumph since Dec. 30, 1984.

Saturday's sojourn to Candlestick Park to face the 49ers, the most successful team in the NFL this season (13-3), figures to be the end of the road for these Bears.

But then again . . .

Coach Dave Wannstedt has this 10-7 team believing they can leap tall odds in a single bound.

After losing twice to the Vikings during the regular season by an aggregate score of 75-41, the Bears thrashed the NFC Central Division champions in front of 60,347 fans.

"They are a good team and they have really been a thorn in our sides," said Bears linebacker Joe Cain. "Today was the best time to beat them. A playoff game and against a division opponent, who we hadn't beat yet. So we get two birds with one stone."

Vikings quarterback Warren Moon, who missed last Monday night's game against San Francisco because of a sprained knee, was out of sync with his record-breaking wide receivers, Cris Carter and Jake Reed.

"I was prepared enough to play in the game after the injury," said Moon. "But I got into a game where I had to throw, throw, throw. That's not the game that I needed to be in after what I was coming off of."

Meanwhile, Bears quarterback Steve Walsh, playing his best game in a month, completed 15 of 23 attempts for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He improved his record as a Bears starter to 9-3.

Even though the Vikings controlled the ball 34 minutes 39 seconds, the Bears won the turnover battle 4-2.

"Someone had thrown out the stat that the last 31 games in the playoffs, the team that won the turnover battle won the game," said Wannstedt. "I didn't know if it was true or not, but I threw it out for the players before the game."

The way the game began, it did not look like turnovers would be a factor in favor of the Bears, who turned the ball over on their first two possessions.

Lewis Tillman fumbled with 9 minutes 21 seconds to go in the first period and the Vikings' Henry Thomas recovered at the Bears' 6. A holding penalty on Minnesota lineman Randall McDaniel nullified a Vikings TD. Finally, Minnesota had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz.

On the Bears' next possession, Walsh's pass over the middle hit the back of the helmet of Bears lineman Jay Leeuwenburg and bounded high into the air. Anthony Parker intercepted the ball and returned it 10 yards to the Bears' 39. Once again, the Vikings self-destructed with a holding penalty on tackle Chris Hinton. Following an incompletion by Moon, Trace Armstrong beat Hinton on a third-down play and wrestled Moon to the turf, forcing the Vikings to punt.