ST. LOUIS Beating the Super Bowl champions put a bounce in the St. Louis Rams' step, even if it doesn't count.
Kim Herring returned a fumble by Keyshawn Johnson 59 yards for a touchdown and the Rams controlled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense in a 26-16 exhibition victory on Monday night.
''Preseason or not, this type of game is going to show you where you are,'' Herring said. ''It showed we're going to be a pretty good team.''
Kurt Warner was perfect on his only drive of the game, going 7-for-7 for 55 yards to set up a field goal, while the Bucs' defense failed to lay a hand on him.
''Everybody knew it was 1s against 1s at the beginning of the game, and the defense came up with a big stop and the offense moved the ball down the field,'' Warner said. ''We were able to dominate on both sides of the ball, so it was a very big confidence booster for us.''
Coach Mike Martz said Warner's showing should silence his critics. Warner was 0-6 as the starter last year.
''I know there's a lot of worry warts out there, but you need not worry,'' Martz said. ''Kurt's as good as he's ever been.''
Raiders coach Jon Gruden also was impressed with Warner.
''He was sharp, he was the MVP guy I remember,'' Gruden said. ''He played extremely well.''
The Rams (1-1) also ended a five-game losing streak in the preseason. They were 0-4 last year following a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, and then began the regular season 0-5.
''We got it off our back,'' Martz said. ''We ended our dry spell.''
The Bucs (2-1) sputtered after totaling 50 points in their first two preseason games, although Brad Johnson was 7-for-9 for 55 yards in a little over one quarter.
Offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker sat out with a sprained ankle for Tampa Bay, which has won each of the last three regular-season meetings against the Rams.
The Bucs managed only 111 yards of total offense in the first half, falling behind 16-0.
Tampa Bay's defense, led by Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, played most of the first quarter, surrendering only an opening 14-play, 66-yard drive.
''I just don't think we were on our 'A' game,'' safety John Lynch said. ''We have to accept responsibility when we don't show up and play well.
''We didn't play well from the start and that type of thing bothers you.''
Buccaneers third-string quarterback Chris Simms played most of the second half and threw two touchdown passes and two 2-point conversion passes.
The Rams' defense had very few big plays last year. St. Louis had only an interception return by Dre' Bly, but gave up nine defensive touchdowns.
Keyshawn Johnson fumbled at the end of a 9-yard reception when Adam Archuleta hit him as he was falling. The ball came loose, Herring scooped it up and he scored untouched to give the Rams a 10-0 lead with 14:09 to go in the second quarter.
Herring entered camp expected to be Jason Sehorn's backup, but became the starter at free safety when Sehorn broke his foot.
The Rams again rested Marshall Faulk and Aeneas Williams, wishing to save them for the regular season. Jeff Wilkins, who missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt and had an extra point blocked in a 7-6 loss to the Raiders last week, was 4-for-4 on a series of chip shots with a long of 37.
Rams quarterbacks were 13-for-13 in the first half. Backup Marc Bulger, 6-1 as the Rams' starter while Warner was sidelined by a broken pinkie and hand last year, was 6-for-6 for 82 yards.
Arlen Harris, battling for a backup running back job with St. Louis, broke a tackle on a 7-yard run that made it 23-8 late in the third quarter.
Notes: Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was among the celebrity guests at the game. He spent much of the pregame chatting with Rams general manager Charley Armey. Cardinals CF Jim Edmonds also watched from a luxury suite. ... Rams C Dave Wohlabaugh broke his left thumb in the second quarter. Although Wohlabaugh said he could play Saturday at Buffalo, Martz plans to sit him the rest of the preseason. Andy McCollum, the center last year and now the starter at LG, played most of the rest of the game at center. ... The Rams' last victory in the preseason came in the exhibition final in 2001, a 21-17 victory over the Chiefs in the annual Governor's Cup game. ... The Bucs lost once last year in the preseason, 40-10 to the Redskins. ... Bucs FB Jameel Cook sprained his right thumb in the fourth quarter. ... Rams rookie CB Kevin Garrett broke his wrist on a special teams tackle in the second half.
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