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They wore red suits and rosy smiles, but these San Francisco 49ers were no gift-giving Santas Monday night.
They were the grinches who stole Christmas from the Bears.
The 49ers rolled to a 24-0 halftime lead en route to a 52-14 thrashing in front of 60,419 fans at Candlestick Park.
The Bears' defense, which entered the game ranked third in the National Football Conference, allowed the most points in the Mike Ditka era as head coach of the Bears.
Steve Young completed 21 of 32 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Young finished the season with a passer rating of 101.8, best in the NFL.
More importantly, the loss cost the Bears (11-5) the NFC Central Division championship. The Detroit Lions (12-4) won their first title since 1983, and they have earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Bears, now a wild-card team, will host the wild-card Dallas Cowboys Sunday at Soldier Field. That means the Bears will be practicing Christmas Day while the rest of the world is opening gifts.
Ditka and his embarrassed players will not soon forget the lobsided drubbing.
"What goes around, comes around. And what you sow, so shall you reap," said Ditka of the apparent attempt of 49ers coach George Seifert to run up the score.
"I don't know how much longer I'll coach, but I have a great memory. I proved that to the gray-haired guy (former 49ers coach Bill Walsh) one time." Asked when he thought the 49ers began to pour it on, Ditka responded:
"Right after the national anthem."
The 49ers (10-6) were eliminated from playoff contention last week, but they delivered an impressive message in front of a national television audience as they won their sixth straight. San Francisco lost six of its first 10 games.
"The 49ers are not in the playoffs because they didn't play well enough to get into the playoffs," said Ditka.
The Bears are now 3-15 in Monday night road games.
The 49ers ran up 486 total yards. The Bears had held Tampa Bay to just 106 total yards in their previous game.
Even without his main man-Joe Montana-throwing him the ball, Pro Bowl receiver Jerry Rice wound up the season with 80 receptions. He entered the game second in the NFC with 75 receptions for 1,227 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Rice added a pair of TD receptions in the first half Monday from Young. Montana missed the entire season with an elbow injury. Young had given way to Steve Bono because of a knee injury. But Bono sprained his knee last week and Young had to come back for the regular-season finale.
Rice slumped slightly in the middle of the season when it came to catching scoring passes, but he managed to eclipse 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season. In five career games against the Bears, Rice has caught 24 passes for 324 yards and seven TDs.
The 49ers marched 76 yards on nine plays during their first possession that culminated with a 2-yard rollout pass from Young to Jamie Williams for a 7-0 lead.
The Bears drove to the 49ers' 2-yard line with a 15-yard pass from Jim Harbaugh (17 of 24 for 212 yards and one TD) to Tom Waddle. But the 49ers' Kevin Lewis forced a Waddle fumble and Don Griffin recovered at the 3.
"I probably ruined the whole game," said Waddle. "I was trying to switch hands and the kid (Lewis) made a good play. I saw the goal line, so I tried extra hard to protect the ball. But I didn't do it well enough. It was a mistake I wish I could have taken back."
Waddle later caught an 11-yard TD pass from backup quarterback Peter Tom Willis in the fourth quarter.
With passes of 11 and 14 yards to tight end Brent Jones and a 34-yard toss to Rice, the 49ers moved 97 yards for a score. Young drilled Rice with a 3-yarder and a 14-0 lead with 10:52 left in the second quarter.
The Bears went three downs and out to give the ball back to the 49ers on a Maury Buford punt to the 31. This time, Young wasted no time in going to Rice for a 69-yard TD pass over cornerback Lemuel Stinson and a 21-0 lead with 9:42 in the half.
"I had a lot of trouble with my footing, but no excuses," said Stinson. "Coach Ditka says that when you slip you're a loser. Today, I was a loser. If there's a time we needed to get beat, I guess tonight was the time."
For good measure, Michael Cofer tacked on a 41-yard field goal with 1:38 left in the half.
The Bears didn't get on the scoreboard until 7:30 of the third period when Harbaugh passed 26 yards to Neal Anderson to make the score 24-7 at the end of a six-play, 72-yard drive.
It marked the first time the Bears had scored in Candlestick Park since Oct. 13, 1985.
The Bears had been shut out 41-0, 23-0 and 26-0 in their previous three visits here.
Ditka was not immediately certain of all the physical injuries incurred.
"I know that Anthony Morgan has a knee injury and we will bring on Eric Wright (from the practice squad) and he will be our other receiver," said Ditka.
Even 49ers rookie quarterback Bill Musgrave, playing in his first NFL game, tossed a 15-yard TD pass to Mike Sherrard late in the game to further infuriate Ditka.
"Life goes on," said Ditka in a terse postgame press conference.
Describing the dismantling of his proud defense, Ditka responded:
"Those that have eyes, let them see. Those that have ears, let them hear."
A reporter suggested that the Bears did not appear ready to play such an important game.
"I would guess that that is a pretty good evaluation," said Ditka. "I thought we were ready to play. We got a little paranoid against a couple of simple things they did. We just never got out of our way after that.
"Again, life goes on. Nobody lost an arm or a limb. This can only mean one of two things. It could mean we resurrect ourselves and we play good next week, or we get trounced in the first round of the playoffs."