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Posted: Friday July 24, 2009 1:16PM; Updated: Friday July 24, 2009 5:11PM
Don Banks Don Banks >
INSIDE THE NFL

Snap Judgments: Roethlisberger distraction conjures '06 memories

Story Highlights

Ben Roethlisberger's accusation is claiming headlines days before training camp

Pittsburgh better hope this distraction doesn't result in a dismal season like 2006

In other news, receiver Derrick Mason appears likely to return for the Ravens

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Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger, whose 2006 motorcycle incident resulted in a dismal season for the Steelers, has been accused of rape.
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Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we stare down the opening of NFL training camps and await the first snaps, crackles and pops of the new football season ...

• I'm not about to go all knee-jerk and mindlessly lump Ben Roethlisberger's June 2006 motorcycle accident together with the troubling news this week that he is being accused of rape in a civil suit filed by a woman in Nevada. It is not an apples-to-apples comparison by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, I think this much is undeniably true:

For the second time in four offseasons, the Steelers will open training camp as defending Super Bowl champions while a significant distraction unfolds in front of them -- for the team and its star quarterback. The matter of Roethlisberger's guilt or innocence regarding this week's disturbing headline appears to be far from knowing at this point, but for the Steelers, the task at hand is somewhat familiar. They must try to keep their focus squarely on the field in the hyper-competitive AFC, even while Roethlisberger faces looming questions, issues and challenges in the coming weeks that may divert his attention away from the Steelers season and his playing career.

It's instructive to note that the last time Pittsburgh had an offseason crisis to navigate with Roethlisberger, the Steelers at least had the benefit of having six weeks before they opened training camp and the defense of their NFL title. Roethlisberger suffered multiple injuries to his head and face when he crashed his motorcycle on June 12 near downtown Pittsburgh, requiring more than seven hours of surgery. Though paramedics at the scene later told him he nearly bled to death from a ruptured artery in his mouth, Big Ben recovered quickly enough to start the Steelers' final three preseason games that August.

With Pittsburgh reporting to training camp in Latrobe, Pa., next weekend, there's nowhere near enough time for this week's headlines to fade from the radar. Not even close. Though, on Thursday, Roethlisberger made his first public statement regarding the civil suit that claims he raped a Lake Tahoe casino hostess in July 2008, calling the allegations "reckless,'' he is sure to face more scrutiny as the Steelers return to work on a daily basis.

The Steelers and their fans can only hope that the 2006 regular season portends little of what might be in store for Roethlisberger and the club this year. That year, they endured their worst season together, going 8-8 and missing the playoffs in what turned out to be head coach Bill Cowher's 15th and final season on the job.

Roethlisberger finished 7-8 in his 15 starts that year after missing the opener to recover from an emergency appendectomy on Sept. 3. His painfully slow start resulted in a blizzard of turnovers as the Steelers went 1-6 in his first seven games of the season -- three more losses than he had as a starter in his first two seasons combined. Roethlisberger went on to record career-worst totals in interceptions (23), completion percentage (59.7), yards per passing attempt (7.5), and passer rating (75.4) as the Steelers became the latest champion to suffer a the post-Super Bowl letdown.

Time will tell us how Roethlisberger and the Steelers weather this unexpected storm. The legal issues involved are far from the kind of health issues Roethlisberger and the team faced three summers ago. But if things should get messy at some point for Big Ben and potentially affect his play, it would have to represent one of the last ways Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin could have foreseen the start of his team's title defense: With a challenge from within.

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