Niners still motivated to rub it in vs. Rams

Since the 49ers don't need to beat the St. Louis Rams to win an NFC West title, or to secure a playoff berth, or to better their postseason positioning, or to knock the Rams out of the playoffs, or to do any other significant damage this season to their longtime rival, the Niners have had to resort to other areas to find motivation for Monday's game in St. Louis. But they sure didn't have to look too hard.

The Niners would like to bury the Rams to make a statement that they now hold the upper hand, and also to send a message to St. Louis that it's not going to be any different next season.

"I'm sure they're going to sit down and evaluate themselves after this game," Niners defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said. "For them, it can be more mental or physical or whatever. But for us, we know our season doesn't stop here."

And that's the thing. This is an interesting yet delicate situation for the 49ers, a game in which they probably would be better served to rest regulars and any player with even the slightest of injury since they will be competing in a playoff game less than six days after Monday's opening kickoff.

But it's difficult for the Niners to look at this one like that. The Rams had owned them - and the NFC West division - for three seasons before the 49ers ended a six-game losing streak to St. Louis with a 37-13 rout on Oct. 6 that ranks as one of San Francisco's strongest performances of the season.

That victory spurred the Niners toward their first NFC West title in five seasons, and dropped the defending NFC champion Rams to 0-5. St. Louis won its next five games to vault back into the playoff picture, but has since lost four of five to guarantee the Rams their worst finish since they climbed back into prominence in 1999.

The Niners want to make it five of six to give the Rams something to think about in the offseason. But coach Steve Mariucci said that's something he won't try to do at all costs, even though the Niners have a chance to sweep their divisional games for the first time since 1997 and show the rest of division who is boss in the new configuration after realignment.

"They would all love to play this next game extensively because we would like to win it," Mariucci said of his team. "It would be nice to sweep the division. We've done it a couple of times and would like to do it again. But we have to take into consideration the playoff game as well. We'll have to see how it unfolds."

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