The San Francisco 49ers have been known for their finesse, their offensive explosiveness. Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, that's the 49ers.

The physical, defensive teams? The Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Those are the team whose defenses stuff opponents senseless.Well, the 49ers proved in their 7-3 victory over the Giants Monday night they can play that game, too.

"To slug it out with them was great," Montana said. "People don't think we can do that."

Even though they had already clinched their fifth consecutive divisional title, the 49ers (11-1) met the Giants squarely on Monday, slamming helmet to helmet, matching tackle with tackle. All their defense was given was a 23-yard touchdown pass from Montana to John Taylor with 1:30 left in the first half. It was enough.

"We had to come out and prove a point," said Charles Haley, who led the 49ers with 11/2 sacks and five tackles. "We are the World Champions and are the best, and people can't come in and dominate us."

Twice the Giants had first-and-goal - at the 3-yard line in the second quarter and at the 9 with less than five minutes to play - and could only muster three points. Matt Bahr's 20-yard field goal with 3:26 left in the first half was all the points New York could put on the scoreboard.

"We've played with that intensity before," said 49ers linebacker Matt Millen. "It's just that in this particular game it had to last the whole game.

"This one from beginning to end you had great plays inside the 20. We had Darrell Pollard inside the 20. The goal line stand in the second quarter. It was good, solid football."

Any questions the Giants (10-2) may have had about how close they are to the top of the NFL mountain were answered, too. Their defense rushed Montana into a 12-for-29 performance and 152 passing yards. That's putting a lid on the NFL's best quarterback and the league's most explosive offense.

"You don't hold a team like the 49ers to seven points and lose," said Giants defensive back Greg Jackson. "That's what hurts."

The Giants' chances came down to a fourth-and-goal play from the 9 with less than four minutes to play. Coach Bill Parcells gambled and went for the touchdown, calling a slant-in pass to Lionel Manuel.

This is the play Millen was talking about, the one where Pollard bumped Manuel at the line, then deflected Phil Simms' pass out of the end zone.

"We knew it was a difficult play, but we didn't think we'd get another chance," Parcells said."(The 49ers) have a powerful offense, so we thought we had to go for it."

The Giants did get another chance. They had the ball on the 49ers' 28 as time expired.

"(Going for the touchdown) surprised me a bit," John Taylor said. "But it's the coach's call. It was a gutsy call to make."

The 49ers and Giants were able to combine for 461 yards, but just as many hard tackles. The 10 points were the fewest scored in an NFL game this season.

This will be a game remembered for Ronnie Lott's hits on Mark Bavaro. For Kevin Fagen and Haley sandwiching Simms. For Lawrence Taylor and Pepper Johnson crashing into Montana.

"There were two great defenses out on the field tonight," Montana said. "They were great, but I don't want to take anything away from our guys. They were playing a good offensive team that can stuff the ball down your throat.

"Both teams expected it to be this type of game, maybe not 7-3."

The 49ers-Giants have met in each of the last four regular seasons. Throw out the 1987 game when replacement players were used, and the winner of the other three meetings went on to win a Super Bowl.

"Something tells me we'll meet again in January," John Taylor said.