Bruce, Holt Prove They're Clutch
A Buccaneers pass defense that thrives on challenges faced a marquee receiving tandem Monday night. Veterans Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, complemented by some young, talented targets, led St. Louis against the only NFL team to hold opposing quarterbacks to less than a 50 percent completion rate. ``Bruce and Holt are probably the best combo you'll see in football,'' said Brian Kelly. ``That's quite a 1-2 punch.''

Holt wasted little time making an impact Monday. On the game's opening possession, he hauled in a 52-yard touchdown pass from Marc Bulger, finding a seam downfield on a third-and-9 play against a Bucs defense that hadn't surrendered a completion longer than 30 yards through five games.

Holt's biggest play was yet to come. His 36-yard touchdown catch from Bulger early in the fourth quarter gave the Rams a 28-21 lead. Bruce, who turns 32 in November, didn't catch his first pass until late in the opening half. The four-time Pro Bowl selection broke in with the Los Angeles Rams in 1994, a year before they moved to St. Louis. After being eclipsed by Holt in 2003, Bruce caught 38 passes in his first five games this year, becoming the first wideout in league history to start a season with four consecutive 100-yard efforts. ``Isaac's probably as good a competitor as I've ever been around - and it's never wavered,'' said Rams coach Mike Martz.

Holt, 28, led the NFL with 117 receptions last year and he's masterful at gaining yards after the catch. ``Isaac runs routes like no other guy in the league, and Torry's just coming into his own,'' Bulger said.

Coming off a strong effort at New Orleans, Tampa Bay defenders looked forward to stopping the formidable duo. ``It's always about us,'' said Dwight Smith. ``If we play our game, you could line up Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in their primes, and we'd hold our own.''

Martz has worked receivers Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald into the mix, too, giving defenses more cause for concern. Curtis, a third-round pick last year, is just rounding into form after breaking a leg in training camp last year. His outstanding speed led to a 41-yard touchdown that brought the Rams within three points against Seattle last week. McDonald was selected in the fourth round last year, and he came into Monday's game averaging 17.5 yards on six receptions. Until his 52-yard touchdown grab in overtime at Seattle, he had been more valuable this year as a punt returner. ``When they make plays that are a major reason why you win a game, then you know they're kind of at that point where everybody gets excited,'' Martz said.

McDonald was in last week's game only because Bruce got a mild concussion on the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. Bruce wasn't going to miss a start on national television Monday night. ``Holt and Bruce are a real good combo,'' said Bucs receivers coach Richard Mann. ``They have both been at the top of their game for a number of years, and one complements the other.''

These are the games that really earn defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin his pay at One Buc Place. ``Bruce and Holt are really fast, and they're bad dudes,'' said Jon Gruden. ``They are clutch and charismatic.''

Ira Kaufman The Tampa Tribune 19 October 2004