Sun Nov 10 8:21pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, left, celebrates with Mark Barron (26) after Fitzpatricks touchdown following the recovery of a fumble by Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington (13) celebrates his touchdown catch with Diontae Johnson (18) during the first half of an NFL football game against the LoLos Angeles Rams in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington, right, celebrates his touchdown catch with Diontae Johnson (18) during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) after getting off a pass during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Los Angeles Rams defensive end Dante Fowler (56) celebrates his touchdown on a fumble recovery during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH (AP) The Steelers defense spoiled Aaron Donald's homecoming and derailed the Los Angeles Rams' momentum in the process.
The Steelers forced four turnovers - including a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick - in an ugly 17-12 victory on Sunday that pushed their winning streak to four games and dealt the Rams' chances of chasing down Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West a serious blow.
Donald, a Pittsburgh native, sacked the Steelers' Mason Rudolph for a safety in his first appearance in his hometown since the Rams took him in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Linebacker Dante Fowler scored Los Angeles' lone touchdown on a 25-yard fumble return on the second snap of the game. But the Rams' offense did little against a Steelers defense that has become the team's identity after losing Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 2.
Jared Goff completed 22 of 40 passes for 243 yards, none of them to leading receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams (5-4) converted just 1 of 14 third downs and came up empty on a pair of last-gasp drives in the final two minutes. Goff's fourth-down heave to the end zone intended for Josh Reynolds fell incomplete with 1:25 to go. Los Angeles got the ball back with 59 seconds to play but Goff's pass to Robert Woods was tipped.
Fitzpatrick ran underneath it for the game-sealing interception and seventh takeaway since the Steelers acquired him from Miami in September for a 2020 first-round pick.
At the moment, it looks like draft capital well spent.
Rudolph completed 22 of 38 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown, stats that would have been considerably better if not for a handful of drops that prevented the Steelers (5-4) from gaining any sort of traction for long stretches.
Rudolph became the ninth quarterback since the 1970 merger to throw a touchdown in each of his first seven games when he found James Washington for a 3-yard score in the first quarter, but the Steelers once again relied on their defense to move over .500 for the first time this season.
The Steelers managed just 15 turnovers in 2018. They have produced 26 through nine games in 2019, helping them stay afloat following a 1-4 start while Rudolph and the offense searches for solid footing.
WHAT THE HEKKER?
Los Angeles coach Sean McVay is known for his innovative thinking, but his aggressiveness nearly cost the Rams in the third quarter. Los Angeles was facing fourth-and-1 at Rams 29 trailing 14-7.
The Rams lined up to punt before fanning out, with Hekker moving up into the shotgun formation. Hekker, who had a 23-yard completion earlier in the season and came in 12 of 20 for 179 yards with a touchdown in his career, was hit as he threw and the pass was picked off by Pittsburgh's Trey Edmunds, a running back by trade.
The Steelers, however, were unable to take advantage of the great field position. A penalty, a sack and a dropped pass pushed Pittsburgh out of field-goal range.
Rams: Center Brian Allen left in the first quarter with a knee issue and did not return. DB Darious Williams left with an ankle problem.
Steelers: Wide receiver Ryan Switzer left in the fourth quarter with a back injury.
Rams: Host the Chicago Bears (4-5) next Sunday night.
Steelers: Travel to Cleveland to play the Browns (3-6) on Thursday. Pittsburgh is 7-0-1 in its past eight meetings with Cleveland.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (knee) was a full participant in practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Njoku returned in Week 14 from Injured Reserve and posted just one catch for four yards in the win over the Bengals. The 23-year-old has plenty of upside, but fantasy owners will be worried that he'll have his snaps limited for the second straight game. The Cardinals Defense is the worst team at defending the position, though, so Njoku will have boom-or-bust appeal as a TE2 this Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle cemented his status as a gridiron beast in Week 14 by securing the Niners victory with a highlight-reel catch-and rumble. Hell return to his premium TE1 status in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons. Despite missing two games with a broken ankle, Kittle has heated up in the second half, amassing 292 yards and three touchdowns since Week 10. The Niners draw a cushy matchup against a Falcons Defense ranked 26th in pass DVOA, setting up Kittle favorably for an encore performance. In a critical fantasy weekend, Kittle managers should feel confident having the All-Pro on their roster.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has emerged lately as a red zone threat. The third-year pro has collected five spikes in his last six games, operating as the teams primary third receiver. With Marquise Goodwin (foot, knee) on injured reserve, Bournes 50 percent snap share should remain steady in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons, even with sophomore disappointment Dante Pettis (knee) back in the mix. While his touchdown prowess is tough to ignore, Bourne hasnt eclipsed four catches or 45 yards during his scoring run, rendering him a volatile WR5.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), who was limited in practice on Thursday, is still expected to play in Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night, barring any future setbacks. Smith-Schuster practiced in full on Wednesday, so the limited practice was initially seen as a troubling setback. He's been out since Nov. 14, though, and is more of a weak WR4 choice for fantasy owners with Devlin Hodges throwing him passes in an extremely tough matchup. Avoiding all Pittsburgh pass-catchers is probably the best strategy in the fantasy playoffs. James Washington's upside takes the biggest hit with Smith-Schuster expected back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scott Miller (hamstring) got in a full practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. He looks to be on track to return for Week 15 in a mouthwatering matchup against the Lions. There is increased opportunity to produce as well with Mike Evans shut down for the rest of the year. Miller has only 10 catches on the year for 151 yards and no touchdowns, so he'd still be a lottery ticket for desperate fantasy owners in redraft leagues. Behind Chris Godwin, it will be Miller, Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson fighting for targets from quarterback Jameis Winston.
The New York Jets placed tight end Ryan Griffin on Injured Reserve on Thursday and activated offensive lineman Brent Qvale in a corresponding move. Griffin became a streaming TE2 option at fantasy's thinnest position in 2019, mainly because Chris Herndon IV was injured all year. The 29-year-old finishes with 34 catches on 41 targets for 320 yards and five touchdowns. He's unlikely to be attractive, even as a backup tight end, in 2020 fantasy drafts. In the final three games, expect Daniel Brown to be Gang Green's primary tight end, although he's not worth your time in fantasy at all.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough (ribs) was downgraded to out of practice on Thursday after getting in a limited session on Wednesday. It puts Scarbrough in danger of missing Week 15 against the Buccaneers, especially if he misses another practice on Friday. Even if Scarbrough plays, he'll be more of a low-upside RB3/flex in a tough matchup with a surprisingly good Buccaneers run defense this year. Rookie Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic would split the workload in the backfield if Scarbrough is inactive this Sunday. Detroit's offense under third-string quarterback David Blough is limping to the finish line.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) remained out of practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Humphries looks destined to miss his second straight game unless he can get in at least a limited practice on Friday. In this run-first offense, Humphries hasn't been fantasy relevant all year. Rookie A.J. Brown is your best bet as an upside WR2 in Week 15 against the Texans suspect secondary, while Corey Davis should remain the No. 2 option. Even if Humphries plays, you should leave him to the waiver wire in redraft leagues.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (knee) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. The Falcons were likely just managing his repetitions on Wednesday. Expect Freeman to be taken off the injury report on Friday and to play in Week 15 against the 49ers. He had one of his best games of the season last Sunday against the Panthers and scored his first rushing touchdown of the year. That's all well and good, but you should fully expect a letdown in Week 15 against one of the best all-around defenses in the league on the road. Freeman is a low-end RB2 for the second round of the fantasy playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (foot) left practice early on Thursday and was listed as a limited participant. Smith-Schuster was expected to return in Week 15 against the Bills and was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, so this represents a setback for the disappointing receiver. There's now no guarantee that he'll play this Sunday, and even if he does, he's more of a WR4 in a tough matchup against Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White. Smith-Schuster hasn't played since Nov. 14 against the Browns and will have limited upside the rest of the way with Devlin Hodges at quarterback. James Washington and Diontae Johnson will benefit if he misses another contest.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald (concussion) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. He has a chance to play in Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night, but he must first clear the league's concussion protocol. Even if McDonald is cleared on Friday to play on Sunday evening, fantasy owners should consider him a low-upside TE2. The veteran tight end hasn't gone over 40 yards in a game this season. If he's held out, Nick Vannett should do most of the pass-catching work at tight end for Pittsburgh.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Allen Hurns (ankle, knee) returned to a full practice on Thursday after being a spectator at Wednesday's session. It puts him on track to play in Week 15 in a sweet matchup against the Giants. It could become even sweeter if one or both of Devante Parker (concussion) and Albert Wilson (concussion) are unable to get cleared from the league's concussion protocol. Hurns has only 29 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns on the season, but he could become Miami's No. 1 wideout if both Parker and Wilson are inactive this weekend. That'd put Hurns on the streaming map in DFS and deeper leagues.
The Baltimore Ravens could rest quarterback Lamar Jackson if they lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed by Week 17. If that's the case, Robert Griffin III would be expected to get the start in Week 17 against the Steelers, even if the season finale is important for the Steelers' chances of sealing a wild-card berth. This is why most fantasy leagues only go until Week 16. If your league goes all the way and you own Jackson, you might be without the league's most dynamic player in your fantasy title game. RG3 has been impressive in limited spurts, but he'd be a huge downgrade to Baltimore's entire offense if he starts, and the Ravens could also choose to rest starters other than Jackson.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot), who was officially placed on Injured Reserve on Thursday, is dealing with a Lisfranc injury that is expected to require surgery. He's facing many months of recovery ahead and could be in danger of not being ready for training camp next summer. Jeffery will turn 30 in February and he'll probably be avoided by most fantasy owners going into 2020 drafts after not playing in a full season since 2017. He had just 43 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games for the Eagles this year. At best, Jeffery will be seen as a WR3 for fantasy owners going into next season.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (hand) took snaps under center at practice on Wednesday, but his right hand was pretty swollen on Monday after he injured it in the Week 14 win over the Patriots. Mahomes has been getting more treatment on his hand since the swelling went down earlier this week, including strengthening it as Week 15 against the Broncos approaches. He admitted that it was a scary situation after Sunday, but there is no fracture in the hand, so Mahomes should be fine to play this Sunday. It's not idea if he's at less than 100 percent against a strong Denver secondary, but Mahomes remains a must-start in fantasy if he's playing.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (foot) was at practice again on Thursday, and his foot injury is very minimal. He should be expected to play in Week 15 against the Patriots. A serious deep threat with his top-notch speed, Ross was on his way to a breakout season before he suffered a broken collarbone in Week 4. The 24-year-old had just two catches for 28 yards in his return from Injured Reserve last week against the Browns, and his matchup with the Patriots this weekend is less than ideal. Ross could get behind the defense for a big play or two, but much more likely that he's a fantasy bust for the second straight week.
Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs) is back at practice on Thursday. Renfrow has been out since Week 12 but has a shot at returning in Week 15 against the Jaguars. The 23-year-old first-year player has 36 receptions (53 targets) for 396 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Oakland just doesn't support anyone of much fantasy relevance in the passing game outside of tight end Darren Waller and receiver Tyrell Williams. You can ignore Renfrow in most leagues if he makes his return this weekend against Jacksonville.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) called Thursday's practice a "win," but he will see how the rest of the week goes before he decides whether he'll play in Week 15 against the Chargers. Thielen is more optimistic about returning than he has been before. It's looking like he'll finally return for the first time since Nov. 3 when he re-injured his leg against the Chiefs. Most fantasy owners will immediately throw Thielen back into their lineups in the fantasy playoffs, but he'll be more of a WR3 if he returns, and he could be at risk of seeing limited snaps if the Vikings choose to ease him back into the fold. His return would be bad news for Olabisi Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) wasn't seen at practice on Thursday for the second straight day. Unless Agholor gets in a limited practice on Friday, he'll be on his way to missing another game. It hurts even more with Alshon Jeffery on Injured Reserve for the final three games of the season. Even if Agholor were to suit up this Sunday against the Redskins, he'd be a low-upside WR4/flex for desperate fantasy owners. Philly could be using three-wide sets consisting of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward Jr. and Robert Davis this weekend. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will be heavily involved.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (knee) doesn't have a timetable for a return next year after suffering a torn ACL last Sunday night against the Rams. Head coach Pete Carroll said that doctors will wait for inflammation to subside before undergoing surgery on Penny's knee. While he wouldn't say for sure that Penny won't be available for the start of next season, he didn't completely rule it out either. The Seahawks will rely on C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer as the backups to lead ball carrier Chris Carson for the rest of the 2019 season. Carson is a surefire RB1 with heavy volume expected in Week 15 against a suspect Carolina run defense. Penny remains a firm hold in dynasty/keeper leagues despite his devastating injury.