Richard Dent, the quarterback terrorist, had an apology to make about that last hit on the New York Giants' Phil Simms, the one across the head early in the fourth quarter that spun Simms around eight yards the wrong way before he threw an incompletion.

"I wasn't trying to take his head off and we didn't have any dinners bet, so I hope I don't get fined," Dent said.

Dent was referring to the NFL's reprimand of the Bears last week for knocking out opposing quarterbacks, which was accompanied by a $2,000 fine to Wilber Marshall.

But Dent would make no further apologies for his afternoon's work at Soldier Field. And not Pete Rozelle, nor anyone else, could legislate that Dent stay away from Simms in the Bears' 21-0 NFC playoff victory.

For the day, Dent had 3 1/2 sacks, forced Simms into a fumble, stopped a reverse play for a loss of 10 yards, deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and helped render Giants running back Joe Morris ineffective before halftime.

"Extraordinary," Bears safety Gary Fencik said. "Just what he's done all year: disrupt."

Said Dent: "For whatever reason, they decided to block me one-on-one. And anytime I get one-on-one, I feel I should get the quarterback. Do I think any one man can block me? I don't believe it. Not when we're ahead. Maybe, someone will someday."

For all of Dent's superior play against New York, the Bears, should they beat Los Angeles next week in the NFC title game, could be without him in the Super Bowl.

His salary this season is $90,000, which is about one-fifth the going rate for a player of his stature, one who led the NFC with 17 sacks this season. And his agent, Everett Glenn, said today he may hold out Dent if the Bears make it.

Dent said he wasn't thinking about his contract today, but just about stopping Morris. "If we stopped Morris," Dent said, "we felt we could get to the quarterback quite easily.

"Simms likes to drop back seven steps," Dent said. "And if you're going to take that deep drop, hold the ball and just be back there, I expect to get you."

What the Giants didn't expect was for the Bears to often abandon their now infamous "46" defense and go to a three-four alignment in which Dent -- usually a straight-on rusher, would loop back to the middle and come inside.

The Bears' first touchdown -- the one on which punter Sean Landeta foul-tipped a punt for minus-seven yards -- was set up on third and eight when Dent came inside and sacked Simms for a loss of 12 yards, back to the 12, which forced Landeta into his end zone.

Two series later, Dent and Otis Wilson sacked Simms for another 12-yard loss, back to New York's eight. Dent knocked the ball loose.

Dent forced Simms into several other incompletions and picked up two more sacks.

"You'd always like more pass protection," Simms said, "but I expected it about like it was today . . .

"It was nothing out of the ordinary," Simms said, managing a smile. "I like getting hammered. Seriously, I don't like it but it's part of the game. The basis of their defense is good talent. We weren't confused. We got beat physically."

A big to-do was made over Chicago defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's multitude of adjustments, which when explained by various Bears still didn't make sense to anybody not in possession of a headset and clipboard.

Bears Coach Mike Ditka, the first one to congratulate Ryan, quickly added, "Our defense didn't surprise them. The people playing the defense caused the problem . . . Richard Dent . . . I can't say enough."

Asked if this was his best game of the season, Dent said, "It might have been one of my best. But I want my best to be eight sacks -- I think seven is the record for one game. That's what I'm shooting for."

Dent's most amazing sequence came early in the fourth quarter, with Chicago protecting a 21-0 lead. After Simms had put together his only impressive drive of the second half, passing the Giants to the Chicago 26, Dent got to the quarterback for a sack and nine-yard fumble that New York recovered.

On the next play from scrimmage, Dent's left arm nearly decapitated Simms, but the Bears were offside.

On third down, perhaps in an attempt to counteract Dent's pass rush, the Giants called a reverse play to Byron Williams.

"I smelled a rat," Dent said, "and when you smell a rat, you're supposed to stay at home."

Simms, ironically enough, was assigned to block Dent on the play. Dent used one arm to knock Simms out of the way -- Simms' least-physical contact with Dent all day -- and the other to tackle Williams for the 10-yard loss.

Center Bart Oates, one of the Giants beaten by Dent, said, "Our protection was a disappointment . . . "

Part of the disappointment was that the Giants didn't try to change their game plan until it was too late.

Chicago's only loss this season was to a Miami team that had quarterback Dan Marino shorten his drops to three and five steps, as opposed to seven-step drops.

But Simms kept dropping back seven steps and looking deep. "They like the deep routes," Fencik said. "They didn't try any short stuff (in the first three quarters), with a few exceptions. They're determined to go deep.

"I know you've got to have confidence in what you do. But at some point you have to say, 'We have to react to what's being given to us.' "

As the Giants found out, the Bears -- particularly Dent -- weren't giving up anything.