Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrates with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The name Antwon Rose Jr., a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in 2018, has his name on a white strip on the back of most Steelers helmets, (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws under pressure from Tennessee Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton (26) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) runs the ball as Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry (58) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24) avoids a tackle by New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) during the first quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (97) celebrates with teammates after a turnover by the New York Giants during the third quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks to pass against the New York Giants during the first quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
PITTSBURGH (AP) The pain was familiar to Ben Roethlisberger.
And the best part about how his 38-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback's body felt following his first game in 364 days might have been the fact none of the pain originated from his surgically repaired right elbow.
Roethlisberger is hopeful the saga of his extended comeback came to an end in northern New Jersey last Monday, when he tossed three touchdowns in a relatively solid and mistake-free 26-16 victory over the New York Giants.
From here on out, he expects the focus to be on football, though that may be impossible heading into Pittsburgh's home opener against Denver (0-1) on Sunday.
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Rather than strictly preparing for the Broncos, Roethlisberger and the organization found itself spending a portion of the week facing questions about team unity after left tackle Alejandro Villanueva chose to honor a fallen US Army veteran on the back of his helmet rather than a Black Pittsburgh teenager killed by a white East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018, as the rest of the team did in New York. It was a move that caught Roethlisberger and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward - both longtime captains - off guard.
It got to the point that Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement saying he was ''proud'' of the efforts of the players to ''bring awareness and changes to combat racism and social injustice'' while acknowledging ''we understand that individually we may say or do things that are not universally accepted.''
Denver's issues are more muted by comparison. The Broncos let a winnable game against Tennessee slip away on Monday night when the Titans drove down the field late to pull out a 16-14 victory.
Still, there were tangible signs of things to get excited about as Denver hopes to gain traction in head coach Vic Fangio's second season.
Quarterback Drew Lock completed 22 of 33 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions. The 23-year-old has also proven difficult to take down. He's been sacked just five times in six career starts and he'll need to escape Pittsburgh's fierce pass rush - and do it while taking care of the ball - if the Broncos want to extend their recent mastery over the Steelers. Denver has won four of the past five meetings with a list of victorious quarterbacks that includes Tim Tebow and Case Keenum.
Lock does have one thing in his favor: Hall of Fame offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The popular Munchak served in the same capacity for the Steelers from 2014-18 before leaving for Denver to be closer to his family. Heyward called Munchak ''the ultimate spy.''
''Hopefully we can prove the point that we have a great O-line while blocking those guys up to give me time back there,'' Lock said. ''If that's what we do, then we're going to be a good football team.''
A victory at an empty Heinz Field would be a good starting point.
JEUDY, JEUDY: First-round pick Jerry Jeudy tied Malcom Butler in knots and repeatedly gained separation in the opener. He caught four passes for 56 yards but the only thing he'll remember from his debut is the pair of costly drops, one of which could have helped Denver salt away the win.
''Those two drops will probably help me not drop passes for the whole season,'' said Jeudy, the 15th overall pick out of Alabama, where he was renowned as much for his good hands as his quick feet and crisp route-running.
BENNY SNELL FOOTBALL: Steelers running back Benny Snell Jr. arrived in Pittsburgh as a fourth-round pick in 2019 with a chip on his shoulder. That chip would sometimes grate in practice against a veteran defensive line. Snell has been decidedly quieter entering his second season, preferring to let his pads do the talking. They spoke loudly while he ran for a career-high 113 yards against the Giants after starter James Conner went down with an ankle injury. Conner's status is uncertain, though Snell figures to have earned more playing time regardless.
TIME KEEPS SLIPPING: Fangio acknowledged 24 hours after the Broncos' 16-14 loss to the Titans that he blew it by not calling a timeout in the closing seconds and preserving as much time as possible for his young, inexperienced offense. Fangio called it a one-off, so he's not planning on changing procedure, however.
Last year, Fangio had an analytics expert in his ear in end-of-game situations but after a shakeup in that department this offseason, Fangio was on his own. He said his coaches can always chime in, but it's apparent none of them did as the Broncos saved all three of their timeouts to use after Tennessee went ahead with 17 seconds left.
LINE SHUFFLE: Steelers right tackle Zach Banner's transformation from shaggy prospect to NFL starter hit a massive bump when he tore the ACL in his right knee against the Giants, ending his season after less than four quarters. Chukwuma Okorafor, a third-round pick in 2018, will take over for Banner.
''We will miss him, but we also have confidence that Chuks will do the job,'' Roethlisberger said. ''It was a close battle I think from what I heard from Coach Tomlin. We will need Chuks to step up who has playing experience. We will expect him to great things.''
Rookie Kevin Dotson could make his first NFL start at guard with Pro Bowler David DeCastro dealing with a knee issue and veteran Stefen Wisniewski recovering from a chest injury.
Five Hot Plays: Week 8
Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye made one field goal and a pair of extra points in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Slye didn't get many opportunities in this one, as Carolina made just one trip to the red zone against a surprisingly resurgent Falcons' defense. There's not much that a kicker can do when he's simply not seeing the opportunities. With that said, Slye may be needed more in Week 9 against Kansas City, as the Panthers will probably have to put up a lot of points to win.
The Carolina Panthers Defense had an average day in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Carolina registered two sacks and an interception, holding strong on Atlanta's first two trips to the red zone. However, they couldn't stop the Falcons from marching down the field, ultimately surrendering 25 points to their division rival. At this point, there's nothing to suggest that the Panthers' defense is worthy of streaming for fantasy purposes. Don't even think about starting them in Week 9, as they face the Chiefs.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel enjoyed his most productive game of the season in a losing effort against Atlanta. Samuel caught four of five targets for 31 receiving yards and carried the ball three times for 23 rushing yards. The 24-year-old made a nice run in the red zone to start the scoring for the Panthers, then hauled in a deep pass from Teddy Bridgewater on a flea-flicker. It's Samuel's second straight game with a rushing touchdown. This was an encouraging performance from the former Buckeye, though it's worth noting that he was held under 50 receiving yards for the seventh time in eight games. He'll be a low-end flex at best in Week 9 against the Chiefs.
Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas caught all three targets for 28 receiving yards in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It was a juicy matchup for Thomas, but he certainly didn't exploit it, as his modest stat-line will support. His three targets were the most he's seen in weeks, though he seemed to surrender some playing time to fellow tight end Chris Manhertz. It's best to avoid Thomas completely until he picks up his production.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore had a quiet game in a 25-17 loss to the Falcons on Thursday Night Football. Moore caught two of six targets for 55 receiving yards, including a huge 42-yard reception on a 3rd-and-17 in the fourth quarter. In a strange turn of events, Moore went without a catch until the final drive of the fourth quarter. Fortunately, the 23-year-old still saw six targets, second on the team to only fellow wideout Robby Anderson. There should be better days ahead for Moore, as he had compiled at least 93 receiving yards in three straight contests coming into this one. He'll get a Week 9 matchup against Kansas City in what could turn out to be a high-scoring affair.
Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis carried the ball 13 times for 66 rushing yards and caught one of two targets for 11 receiving yards in a loss to the Falcons. The 27-year-old disappointed in likely his last ride as the Panthers' lead back, as Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is expected to return in Week 9 against Kansas City. Davis was a PPR machine in McCaffrey's absence, with at least six targets in four games as the starter. He was so impressive at times that it's possible he earned himself a bigger role, though it likely won't amount to much with McCaffrey around to gobble up the majority of the touches. Keep Davis rostered until we find out McCaffrey is back for sure.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage finished Thursday's win with two receptions for 25 yards on three targets. Gage continued to show his inconsistency on Thursday after coming into the game having gotten at least 54 yards in the past two contests. The WR is definitely streaky, which makes him a risky play most weeks. An ankle injury suffered by fellow wideout Calvin Ridley is worth monitoring. If Ridley cannot play next Sunday, Gage's value will surely go up, but it would still be hard to trust him for good production given his lackluster numbers this season.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson hauled in five of eight targets for 48 receiving yards in a 25-17 loss to the Falcons. It could have been a bigger day for the former Jet, as he nearly made a one-handed touchdown grab on a throw from backup P.J. Walker, who came in relief of Teddy Bridgewater for one series. It certainly didn't help Anderson that Bridgewater was under constant pressure the whole night. However, his fantasy managers can take solace in the fact that he's now seen at least eight targets in six of eight contests this season. That sort of volume should keep him in the WR2 mix next week, even in a tough matchup against Kansas City.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had seven receptions for 137 yards on 10 targets in the Week 8 win over Carolina. For the past three weeks, the WR has been playing at a tremendous level and has gotten at least seven receptions, nine targets, and 97 yards the past three games. His volume keeps him in the WR1 tier each week.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 15 of 23 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown along with 30 yards rushing on five attempts in a 25-17 loss to Atlanta. Bridgewater left the game after taking a nasty hit in the third quarter, but he was able to return after making it through the league's concussion protocol. The 27-year-old made some nice throws when he was given time, including a beautiful deep ball to Curtis Samuel on a flea-flicker. Unfortunately, he was constantly under pressure, as he was sacked twice and hit six times by the Falcons Defense. A bounce-back could be in the cards next week- Carolina may need to rely on Bridgewater's arm in Week 9 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley finished with three receptions for 42 yards on four targets in Week 8. The WR went down with an ankle injury in the first half of the game and didn't return. Managers will now have to monitor the status of the WR heading into the Week 9 clash against the Broncos.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst finished with five receptions for 54 yards on seven targets in the Week 8 win over Carolina. Hurst has now seen seven targets in the past two games and has gotten at least 50 yards in four of the past five games. The TE has a decent role in this offense and the latest numbers are backing that up. Hurst should be considered a low-end TE1 each week given his consistency.
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill finished with 11 carries for 55 yards and two receptions for nine yards on Thursday. It was the RB2 of the team who surprisingly led in rush yards, but this was a rare occurrence. Hill doesn't see enough weekly touches to merit good fantasy value going forward.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II finished Thursday night's win with 18 carries for 46 yards and a score. The back still had a decent night despite Brian Hill getting more rushing yards total. Gurley has now had at least 18 carries in the past three games and has three rushing touchdowns in the past two games. With a steady number of carries each week, the RB should remain in the low-end RB1/high-end RB2 tier every week.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went 21-for-30 and gained 281 yards and one interception in the Thursday night win over the Panthers. It was a rainy game and many players were clearly affected by the conditions. Ryan finished with an average night, which he has sometimes had this season. With a high-powered offense, the QB should remain in the starting tier most weeks, but is most effective in favorable matchups.
Teddy Bridgewater, after being tripped while trying to scramble, took a shot to the head as he fell to the ground against the Falcons. Obviously, the first concern after a hit to the head is a concussion. Bridgewater's head abruptly twisted to the side and he went into the tent shortly thereafter. The Panthers' backup tonight is XFL sweetheart, P.J. Walker.
Calvin Ridley has been ruled out for the Falcons' Week 8 game against the Panthers. He was tackled by a defender and his left foot got caught under the defender. Ridley immediately grabbed his left foot and went to the locker room. His status for Week 9 will now be in question.
New York Jets running back La'Mical Perine has been buried on the depth chart for most of the season. However, head coach Adam Gase mentioned last week that he wants to get Perine more involved. Perine was on the field for 70 percent of the offensive snaps during the Week 7 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He saw 11 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown in the loss. He'll get a decent matchup here against the Kansas City Chiefs who are average against the run this season. Perine could be worth looking at as a desperation option for owners in need of a running back.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder (groin) was able to go through limited practice on Thursday. That is actually an upgrade since Crowder sat out of practice the day prior. Crowder has been basically the only bright spot for this team all season long. His absence would doom the Jets chances of doing anything at all on offense versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. Crowder has seen 10 or more targets in each game that he has played in this season. He'll be a reliable WR2, assuming he suits up here.
New York Jets running back Frank Gore has seen a significant role in the backfield this season. The departure of Le'Veon Bell has opened up lead back duties for Gore over the last few weeks. Sadly, the Jets offensive line and team as a whole is horrible this season. Gore has done what he can, but will likely see his role decrease going forward. Head coach Adam Gase wants to see La'Mical Perine more involved in the offense. That means, Gore is going to be a tough option to trust versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8.