At the outset, Ben Roethlisberger he did things no NFL quarterback had ever done and the Steelers soared. But by season's end, he and coach Bill Cowher couldn't even agree on some broken toes.
What happened? How did it all unravel so fast?
Why was Roethlisberger a different player in January than he had been upon taking over for Tommy Maddox in September?
And how did what had been a storybook season end agonizingly and abruptly, one step shy of the Super Bowl?
"I'm not one to make excuses; I don't know what it was," Roethlisberger said Thursday during an offseason visit to the Steelers' practice facility on Pittsburgh's South Side. "Maybe it was a little bit of that (mental fatigue). Maybe it was playing against pretty good teams.
"I just felt maybe a little more pressure because I knew I couldn't make the mistakes that I'd made during the year because one mistake in a playoff game can kill you, as we saw."
Roethlisberger saw a great deal upon becoming the Steelers' No. 1 pick last April.
He went 13-0 as a starter, the first QB in NFL history to achieve such regular-season perfection. He completed 66.4 percent of his passes and compiled a passer rating of 98.1, eclipsing NFL rookie records that had been set by Dan Marino and establishing Steelers' all-time standards in both categories.
Roethlisberger was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2004.
He also was the guy who threw three touchdown passes and five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, in his first two playoff games.
These days, "Big Ben" is an aspiring second-year pro who's already looking ahead.
"I need to learn the offense more so that I eliminate mental mistakes, so I can make my decision-making that much quicker," Roethlisberger said. "If I know the offense better, then I can make my decisions quicker and, hopefully, eliminate a lot of the mistakes I made this year.
"One of the big things I really need to improve on is learning the offense and getting more comfortable. And I think that'll come naturally with experience and learning and being around these guys more."
Already, the cast of players around Roethlisberger is changing.
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, a close friend, has left for free-agent limbo, and free-agent wide receiver Cedrick Wilson has arrived from San Francisco.
"Obviously, everyone knew my relationship with 'Plex,'" Roethlisberger said. "It's unfortunate. I hope, obviously, if he's not coming here he gets to a team that he likes and enjoys, for his sake. I've seen him a couple times and talked to him on the phone a few times. It's not going the way he wanted it to, unfortunately for him.
"The new receiver I'm excited about. Hopefully, we got another speed guy, from what I hear. It never hurts to have receivers out there."
No matter who winds up where, Roethlisberger intends to elevate his game in 2005.
"Now that I've had a year of playoffs, a year of game experience, hopefully I'll be able to use that to make me better and in turn make the team better next year," he said.
As for those toes, Cowher said they hadn't been broken a day after Roethlisberger had maintained that they were, they're doing much better.
"I can run on them pretty good now," Roethlisberger said