Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, run the ...

Ah, baloney.

If anything, wild-card weekend was a strike against the NFL's favorite macho mantra, "You Gotta Run Da Ball!" With defenses geared to stuff the run, the winning teams moved on only because they proved, "You Gotta Have a Quarterback, Homeboy!"

Never mind a 100-yard rusher. Wild-card weekend didn't even produce a 70-yard rusher!

San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL's leading rusher, advanced despite being held to 42 yards on 21 carries. That's a 2-yard average against Tennessee, a sixth seed and the last team to qualify for the playoffs!

Jacksonville's Fred Taylor, a 10,000-yard career rusher, advanced despite gaining only 48 yards on 16 carries.

That's a 3-yard average and 4 fewer yards than Jags quarterback David Garrard had!

The league average per carry this season was 4.1 yards. Only one team that participated in wild-card weekend -- Jacksonville at 4.7 -- topped that average. And that's only because Garrard ran for 32 yards on the key fourth-and-2 play late in the game. Otherwise, the Jags would have averaged 3.7 per carry.

In the AFC, the Chargers beat Tennessee 17-6 while averaging 2.1 yards per rush. In the NFC, the Giants beat the Buccaneers 24-14 while averaging 3.3 yards per rush.

Why did they win? Because quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Eli Manning finally performed up to their first-round abilities once it was obvious their strong running games could not carry their teams.

If you're thinking the best running teams have yet to play this postseason, think again. None of the four teams that earned a first-round bye ranked in the top 12 in rushing during the regular season. The Patriots were 13th followed by the Cowboys (17th), Colts (18th) and Packers (21st).

It's also no coincidence that the top four quarterbacks in the postseason -- Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Brett Favre -- had the weekend off.

I'm not saying these guys could succeed by throwing the ball 100 percent of the time. Favre, for example, clearly is better since Ryan Grant was added during the season. But this isn't your grandpa's NFL. The running game is there for balance, not to carry the load.

As you may know, the Vikings ranked Numero Uno in rushing. They averaged 164.6 yards per game while depending on the running game to carry the load. They also finished 8-8 and whiffed on the playoffs.

If that's not an invitation to explore every possible offseason option to upgrade the quarterback position, then what will it take?

After all, how long will the Vikings have a defense that stuffs the run and scores this often? How long can Chester Taylor stay happy in the background? And how long can Adrian Peterson run that fast and that hard before he breaks down?

As Marissa Tomei put is so well in "My Cousin Vinny," time is "tick-tick-ticking away."

Vikings coach Brad Childress was wise in lending support to young QB Tarvaris Jackson while leaving his options at quarterback open for 2008. Jackson is worth keeping for the long term, but even Childress now has to realize the Vikings must think creatively when it comes to the short term.

The Eagles say they don't intend to trade Donovan McNabb. The Vikings should make them a sweet offer and see if that's true. Considering McNabb already knows the offense and should be 100 percent healthy next season, he's worth at least a first-round pick.

Who knows if that would be enough. The Eagles reportedly asked for three first-round picks right before the trading deadline. Obviously, he's not worth three first-rounders, but my guess is the Eagles would take less in a deal made during the offseason.

The Vikings could still be a run-oriented team. But they would at least be able to temper their run-the-ball-at-all-cost mentality.

There aren't many NFL defenses that won't eventually stop the run. And when that happens, you know what they say: "You Gotta Have a Quarterback, Homeboy!"

Mark Craig •