SAN FRANCISCO, DEC. 15 -- There's no way anyone could have told the San Francisco 49ers that their beloved Joe Montana, the hottest quarterback in the NFL, would sustain a pulled hamstring and a twisted knee in the first quarter Monday night against the Chicago Bears and they'd wake up Tuesday morning smiling anyway.

Montana may need the help of crutches for a few more days, and he will almost certainly miss Sunday's game against Atlanta, but if that's the price for a 41-0 victory over the Bears, it may have been worth it.

By winning, the 49ers at 11-2 probably assured themselves of the home-field advantage -- a direct route to the Super Bowl the past six years -- in the conference playoffs. Even if the 49ers were to lose to the Los Angeles Rams on the final Sunday of the regular season, San Francisco would appear to hold the advantage in tie breaker procedures against the Saints, Redskins and Bears, all 10-3.

And it certainly didn't hurt the 49ers to find they have a more-than-capable backup quarterback in Steve Young, should something happen to Montana in the playoffs. Young threw four touchdown passes, three to record-setting Jerry Rice. With his three touchdown receptions, Rice tied Mark Clayton's 1984 NFL record for touchdowns in a single season (18). His first tied the long-standing record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown reception (11).

The 49ers found they need not depend solely on the offense. They got an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown by Dana McLemore that put the game out of reach, 27-0, in the third quarter. The San Francisco offensive line shook the criticism that it relied too much on finesse and couldn't blow away a strong defensive front as the 49ers rushed for 198 yards against the league's top-ranked rushing defense.

And although the Bears had to use backup quarterback Mike Tomczak, who might be one of the worst passers in the league, the San Francisco defense shut out a Chicago offense that has as many weapons as any team in the NFC.

"We came out to outhit the Bears, and that's just what we did," running back Roger Craig said. "This was a make-or-break game, and you saw that finesse stuff is a myth. Our defense laid some wood on people."

Dwight Clark, a veteran who caught one of Young's touchdown passes, said, "When is the last time you saw a Bear defender knocked backward, on the ground? I don't remember seeing it the last two years and I saw it twice tonight."

San Francisco takes special pride in beating the Bears. Coach Bill Walsh is far too urbane to stand atop a chair and beat his chest, but his words served the same purpose.

"We're really proud of this win," he said. "I want to pause for a minute and take a lot of pride in it. We're not America's team, the Monsters of the Midway or the darlings of the networks and the nation. But we are a good, solid team. We'll make a run at it this year. We can be a finesse team, but we're a physical team, also."

This certainly was no wine-and-cheese party the 49ers held for the Bears. It was 20-0 at the half and San Francisco continued to pour it on the Bears in the second half.

Did suffering the club's biggest loss since 1977 humble the Bears? Did suffering the first shutout since the 49ers beat Ditka's first playoff team, 23-0, in January 1985 force the Bears to shut up and take stock? Did a sound beating in every phase of the game lead the Bears to re-evaluate just how good they are (or aren't) with only two weeks left in the regular season?

Of course not.

A woman filed an assault complaint against Ditka, saying he hit her in the head with a wad of chewing gum as he was being ushered out of Candlestick under police guard. San Francisco police said they aren't interested in interviewing Ditka, but are waiting for "an indication from the victim if there's anything she wants to do," according to inspector William Kidd. And several other Bears threw around harsh words, as if they were on the long end of 41-0.

"If San Francisco is still in it five weeks from now {for the NFC championship}, we'll kick their tails," safety Dave Duerson said. "We're a bunch of guys who've grown accustomed to winning. I'm not about to say the 49ers are a better ball club because we've got better people."

Duerson said he thought Walsh rubbed it in by having Young throw a third touchdown pass to Rice to make it 41-0 after the Bears were obviously going to lose. "When you run reverses and you're up 30-some points, that's called rubbing it in," Duerson said. "I guarantee you all those things will be remembered when we come back."

Chicago defensive end Richard Dent, a scowl spread across his face, said, " 'Til we meet again."

Safety Todd Bell said, "I promise we'll be back."

And Al Harris, one of the few quiet Bears defenders, said, "At least this wasn't an 'If I had done this, or if we had just done that,' kind of game. But if we're smart, and I think we will be, we'll turn this into something positive. We'll come back here with a lot of determination. It may be dangerous for them that they beat us this bad. We'll come back, and next time it will all be different."

Walsh said, "The Bears are going to rebound with a vengeance. I'd hate to be the one to play them next week. My expectation is that we'll meet them again here {in the NFC championship game Jan. 17}."