By ROY CUMMINGS rcummings@tampatrib.com
Published: Oct 17, 2004






TAMPA - Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice says the Rams won't recognize the Tampa Bay team that takes the field against them Monday night.
``They're not going to face the same team the rest of the NFL saw the first two weeks of the season,'' Rice said. ``They're going to be facing a team that's really on the rise. We're on a surge right now. We're gaining momentum.''

Rice said the Bucs' victory against New Orleans injected new energy into the players on both sides of the ball and helped his team regain some of the confidence that was lost during an 0-4 start.

``We learned how to win last week,'' he said. ``Now we have to learn how to reproduce those things that made us winners. That's not always easy, but it's mandatory. This is a game that will [define] our character.''

It could define more than that. Led by an aerial attack that is ranked third overall, the Rams have the fourth-ranked offense in the league. The Bucs' defense is also ranked fourth.

But according to cornerback Ronde Barber, this will be the first time this year that the Bucs' third-ranked passing defense has been truly tested.

``This team's success hinges a lot on how well their receivers play against our secondary and that's a challenge we haven't had to face this year,'' Barber said.

``A lot of the challenges, in fact most of the challenges we've had, have come from the running game. We've got to stop the run this week as well, but we know the danger is in the passing game.''

In a lot of ways, it's a new danger for the Bucs. Monday's game will mark the first time they have faced the Rams since Marc Bulger replaced Kurt Warner as the starting quarterback.

The Bucs were 3-1 against Warner, who is now with the Giants, but you got the feeling from listening to Barber that matching that success against Bulger may be more difficult.

``The thing with Kurt is, he makes all the [Arena League] throws - all the underneath throws, the digs, the little glances, the slants, he threw all of those real well,'' Barber said.

``This guy, Bulger, he throws everything. He's effective with the outs, effective with the go- ball. He brings a little bit more to the table than the other guy did.''

CLAYTON PROBABLE: WR Michael Clayton was added to the Bucs injury report Saturday with a knee injury. He is probable for Monday's game.