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Nickerson's return un-Hardylike

Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson is so used to being the hero that he seemed a bit miscast as the villain in Sunday's loss to the 49ers.

Nickerson, who was making his return to the lineup after missing three games with an ankle sprain, was helpless as the 49ers rolled up 181 yards on the ground.

He also committed two costly penalties _ negating an interception by Thomas Everett when he was caught holding tight end Brent Jones and picking up a personal foul following a 49ers touchdown.

"I blitzed, fell over somebody and the next thing I know, somebody is shoving my head down," Nickerson said. "I'm not going to let anybody shove my head down. So when I got up, I shoved the guy and they throw a flag."

The Bucs were penalized for 111 yards _ including four flags for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Surprisingly, it was the Bucs veterans who had the biggest mistakes against the 49ers.

Safety Barney Bussey was called for pass interference on Ricky Watters while defending a poorly thrown ball from wide receiver John Taylor. That play set up a 49ers field goal.

Then, two plays after Nickerson erased Everett's interception, he stripped Watters of the ball at the Tampa Bay 17-yard line. But rather than fall on it, Everett tried to scoop it up and whiffed, leaving Jones to recover for the 49ers.

Despite throwing an interception, fumbling and committing two procedure penalties, the 49ers scored a touchdown.

"We didn't make our plays. Some of the calls that were made took a couple chances away," Nickerson said.

"Brent Jones and I had been jamming each other and shoving each other all day long. But we get an interception and there's a late flag. I'm screaming all day at the ref to call the thing even."

The Bucs were surprised how easily the 49ers were able to run the ball Sunday. Watters had his best game of the season, rushing for 103 yards and two TDs.

The Bucs defense also knew they'd have to keep the score close with rookie Trent Dilfer starting at quarterback.

"You know they're going to give him different looks," Nickerson said of Dilfer. "But on our side of the ball, we just tried to focus in on trying to stop them. We weren't successful at that today."

Quarterback Steve Young sliced the Bucs up through the air, completing 20-of-26 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown.

"We came into the game knowing we didn't want to get beat by Young and Rice," safety Marty Carter said. "Maybe there was some overkill, but we got that part of it done. A couple calls went against us. We were up against the world out there. You have to fight through it, I guess."