American Football: Roethlisberger reels as Pittsburgh slide

Nine months ago the Pittsburgh Steelers were celebrating winning the fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history, under the guidance of Ben Roethlisberger who, at 23 years old, was the youngest quarterback ever to triumph in the big game.

Today, with less than half the 2006 season completed, the Steelers stand on the brink of elimination following their 20-13 defeat to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Roethlisberger was the architect of his side's doom. He threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, as his, and his team's, season continues its downward spiral.

Since the heady night of Super Bowl XL in February, little has gone right for Roethlisberger. In the summer, he was involved in an accident on his motorbike while not wearing a helmet. In September he underwent an emergency appendectomy. Last week concussion forced him out of the game against Atlanta.

In the six games he has played this season, he has managed five touchdowns against 11 interceptions. After the defeat in Oakland, the player blamed himself for his side's struggles. "I'm embarrassed," he said. "I'm letting the whole team down... In my wildest dreams I didn't think I'd be playing this bad."

Roethlisberger is his own harshest critic and there are other causes for the Steelers' malaise. But unless he can quickly regain his former poise, Pittsburgh seem destined for a season of bitter disappointment.

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