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It started as a happy homecoming for Tony Dungy and his merry band of Buccaneers.

But any reunion can be pretty darn sobering if nobody recognizes you.

Looking nothing like the crisp offensive team that moved the chains and produced leads the past two weeks, the Bucs went back to school against the defending AFC champion Steelers on Saturday night.

What an education.

The Steelers were too strong, too fast and played a defense that reminded the ex-Steeler Dungy too much of his Super Bowl days.

Pittsburgh free-agent running back Jerome Bettis jackhammered his way for 52 yards and a touchdown in eight carries in the first half to lead the Steelers to a 13-3 preseason win.

"It really wasn't that emotional," Dungy said of his Steel City return. "I had a fun time here seeing a lot of people. But I was more excited about how we'd respond to this test and we didn't play as well as I hoped we would.

"I'm just a little disappointed because the first two weeks I thought we played better each week and we didn't today. We had some chances in the first half and didn't take advantage of them and it's tough to go on the road against a playoff-type team and blow opportunities like that."

The victory improved the Steelers to 2-2 and dropped the Bucs to 1-2.

After outplaying the Miami Dolphins and the Atlanta Falcons on both sides of the ball the first two weeks, Dungy returned to Pittsburgh hoping to use the Steelers as a yardstick for his improving team.

"We want to step it up another level," Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson said, "so that we're able to play with a team like Pittsburgh toe-to-toe, for four quarters, and come out with a victory."

But after averaging 347.5 yards on offense the first two games, the Bucs were not nearly as mighty against a Steelers' defense loaded with Pro Bowl players.

Tampa Bay's running game, which had functioned well without holdout tailback Errict Rhett, never got out of the starting blocks Saturday.

The Bucs averaged just 2 yards per carry and were limited to 172 total yards _ just 81 in the first half.

The Steelers got in the face of quarterback Trent Dilfer.

The third-year pro managed to complete 60 percent of his passes (6 of 10), but was limited to just 48 yards and was sacked once, hurried often and danced out of trouble on several other occasions.

Contributing to the problem was the Bucs' inability to solve Pittsburgh's 3-4 defensive alignment. The Carolina Panthers are the only team the Bucs will face in the regular seson that deploys the same system.

"I really believe we are just as good of a football team," Dilfer said. "(Steelers linebacker) Greg Lloyd matching up with a running back doesn't strike fear in my heart. They don't strike any fear in me. I just think they're a good, solid football team with a lot of speed. But I think the strength is that it's a different scheme. Put them in a 4-3 scheme and I don't think their players are that much better than any players."

The Bucs also failed to take advantage of any opportunities the Steelers afforded. Still looking for its first turnover of the preseason, a hallmark of previous Dungy defenses, Tampa Bay jarred two fumbles loose in the first half but failed to recover either.

What highlights there were for the Bucs came courtesy of the defense and kicking game.

Nose tackle Warren Sapp looked more like the All-American from Miami than the moody rookie who had his enthusiasm sapped by his draft-day drama.

Sapp sacked Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak, causing a fumble, and disrupted several running plays. His teammates forced Pittsburgh to punt on its first three possessions.

But it was the Bucs' special teams that generated the most excitement.

Kick returner Marvin Marshall took the opening kickoff and dashed 53 yards to the Steelers' 39. But the Bucs were unable to turn it into points when Mike Husted missed a 50-yard field goal.

Tennessee rookie Nilo Silvan produced the play of the night with his zig-zagging 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. But the play was called back due to an illegal block by Jeff Gooch.

"I think they've got some ability," Dungy said. "That's gonna be a tough call for us. We wanted to juice up our return game and we broke two. I think Marvin and Nilo both showed they have some skills, they've got speed and they're tough."

Backup quarterback Casey Weldon, playing with the second-team offensive line, enabled the Bucs to avoid the shutout by completing seven passes on a 72-yard drive that lasted 18 plays and took 10:23 off the clock in the third quarter.

The drive ended when Weldon was pancaked by Israel Raybon on third and 3 from the 9, forcing the Bucs to settle for Husted's 33-yard field goal.

Behind Tomczak, the Steelers eked out only 125 total yards in the first half, nearly all on a marathon touchdown drive. Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart played quarterback in the second half; each led drives to field goals.