PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The genesis for a season that has gone terribly wrong may be traced to a pair of seemingly unconnected events that occurred long before any member of the Pittsburgh Steelers stepped on a field: A motorcycle wrecked. A mansion purchased. A season ruined?
Ben Roethlisberger's decision to not strap on a helmet before he rode his racing-style motorcycle through downtown Pittsburgh on a sunny June day. A pen scrawl on a North Carolina luxury home sales agreement.
Unwittingly, they may have caused self-doubts, worry and distraction to creep into a team renowned for its confidence and set the stage for one of the worst performances ever by a returning Super Bowl champion.
How's this for downsizing your goals?
Only weeks after the Steelers were talking so confidently of making another Super Bowl run, coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday he has only one immediate goal for a sagging team that has lost six of seven games: "Win a game."
Right now, these Steelers (2-6) can't aspire to much more than that.
"This is new territory for this group of players," Cowher said.
What the Steelers may ask themselves someday is whether this whole mess would have been different if Roethlisberger hadn't wrecked his motorcycle. Or if Cowher hadn't stunned the franchise by buying a $2.5 million luxury home in Raleigh, N.C., and moving his family there before the season started.
Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at age 23, came out of his bloody crash as well as could be expected with a broken jaw, a concussion and other relatively minor injuries. He later apologized to his teammates and, only last week, said he is no longer riding bikes.
But while he healed quickly, it was evident once the season started he wasn't close to being the quarterback he was during the playoffs last season.
He was set back further after undergoing surgery to remove his appendix and missed the opening game.
When he returned, his timing and decision-making weren't the same and, while he has played effectively in three of his last four starts, he has a 1-5 record after going 27-4 in his first two seasons.
Players don't always confine their poor judgment to a football field, and Roethlisberger may have set his team back by a season simply for the selfish pleasure of feeling the wind blowing through his hair on a sunny day.
Equally surprising was the decision by Cowher, a man who despises distractions, to move his family out of Pittsburgh with only one season beyond this one remaining on his contract.
Cowher has not said if he will coach the Steelers again in 2007, and there is growing speculation he will retire after this season. Still, how long can a successful coach who, at 49, is 30 years younger than Joe Paterno stay out of the game?