Pittsburgh Steelers newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick smiles as he warms up during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes over Seattle Seahawks nose tackle Bryan Mone (79) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at the scoreboard as he walks off the field as time runs out in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Roethlisberger did not play the second half of the game. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida (22) runs the ball during the first half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrates his touchdown during the first half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Two straight losses to open the year, a season-ending injury to the franchise quarterback, and a West Coast trip to face an undefeated team all add up to many people writing off the Pittsburgh Steelers before the end of September.
That's just the way coach Mike Tomlin likes it.
''I don't care about many people's eyes and things of that nature, man,'' he said. ''We're used to living in the eye of the storm in this business at this level. I do enjoy the challenges and the adversity that the game presents, so from that standpoint it does create a sense of urgency that's a good fuel. But in terms of perceptions and what people are saying outside our organization, it would be tough for me to care less.''
The Steelers (0-2) are counting on that urgency to make up for the loss of Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury and help Mason Rudolph succeed in his first career start when Pittsburgh takes on San Francisco (2-0) in the 49ers' home opener on Sunday.
Rudolph, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2018, beat out Josh Dobbs during training camp to be the primary backup. He played well last week during a half of work against Seattle, completing 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that came off a tipped pass.
Rudolph said he was ready for his moment even if he hadn't even gotten on the field in his first 17 games as a pro.
''There have been plenty of quarterbacks who hadn't played immediately. I was encouraged by that,'' he said. ''I tried to have a long-term mentality and understand that hopefully we play in this game a long time. And as long as I am ready for my opportunity, that's kind of all that matters.''
While the message for the Steelers is hope isn't lost despite the rough start to the season, the 49ers are trying to avoid complacency after opening the season with double-digit wins at Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
It has been rare success for a team that took until December to win its second game in coach Kyle Shanahan's first season in 2017 and until November last year.
''I think our team is smart enough and knows the deal. There's not one person in our building, at least that I've noticed, that feels like we've arrived by any means,'' Shanahan said.
Here are some other things to watch:
The Niners are dealing with their own significant injury with star left tackle Joe Staley out for at least six weeks with a broken leg. Sixth-round rookie Justin Skule will get his first career start in place of Staley, who has started all but four games since 2011.
''It's still the game of football,'' Skule said. ''Just take a deep breath, and don't let anything get too big for myself.''
IF THE SAFETY FITZ
Pittsburgh expects to start newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick just days after acquiring him from Miami. The Steelers parted with three picks, including a first-rounder in 2020, for the opportunity to bring in the versatile 22-year-old Fitzpatrick. Though Fitzpatrick played multiple positions with the Dolphins, Tomlin expects to ''anchor'' Fitzpatrick at free safety until he gets acclimated.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
The Niners had a big day on the ground last week, rushing for 259 yards in the team's' sixth-most productive rushing day of the past decade. Making that even more impressive was that the three halfbacks in the game - Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. - all entered the league as undrafted players. That trio combined for 238 yards, the third most by undrafted players in a game since the merger.
Steelers wide receiver Donte Moncrief could be out of a starting job just two games into his time with Pittsburgh. Moncrief struggled with drops in the opener against New England and was targeted just once last week against Seattle, a third-quarter pass from Rudolph that smacked off Moncrief's hands and helmet and led directly to an interception. Moncrief, signed as a free agent shortly after the Steelers traded Antonio Brown to Oakland, said he has been pressing.
''I know that we haven't been able to depend on him to this point, so he's got some challenges, and we have some challenges moving forward,'' Tomlin said.
The Niners won back-to-back road games to open the season for the first time in 30 years. Now they come home for their first game at Levi's Stadium with a winning record since losing to Seattle on Thanksgiving night in 2014. The 49ers haven't had a great home-field advantage since moving into Levi's Stadium five years ago, with empty seats a regular occurrence for a team that has won only 17 games the previous four seasons.
''I don't think we've given our fans a lot to be excited about in the two years I've been here at home or the years prior,'' Shanahan said. ''But, when we have, I think our stadium has been loud.
WEST COAST WOES
Pittsburgh has struggled in recent years when the team plane has pointed toward the Pacific. The Steelers have lost each of their last four games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones dating back to 2015, including road losses to Denver and Oakland in 2018, teams that combined to go 8-22 against the rest of the league.
New England Patriots S Jordan Richards was released Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Washington Redskins S Deshazor Everett (ankle), LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (hamstring), OG Wes Martin (chest), S Montae Nicholson (ankle), CB Josh Norman (thigh, hand), Adrian Peterson (ankle) and RB Chris Thompson (toe) did not practice Tuesday, Oct. 22. WR Steven Sims Jr. (toe) and TE Vernon Davis (concussion) were limited. LB Ryan Kerrigan (elbow) and QB Case Keenum (shoulder, foot) participated fully in practice. OT Donald Penn (non-injury) was not given a practice designation after being limited one day earlier.
Free-agent DL Sylvester Williams (Saints) was signed to an undisclosed contract by the Los Angeles Chargers on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Thielen (hamstring) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Oct. 22. DE Everson Griffen (quad), DT Linval Joseph (knee), DE Hercules Mata'afa (neck), CB Xavier Rhodes (hip), TE Kyle Rudolph (thumb), OT Riley Reiff (ankle), LB Eric Kendricks (hip), LB Ben Gedeon (concussion), OG Josh Kline (foot) and DT Shamar Stephen (knee) each participated in full.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DB Justin Bethel (Ravens) signed an undisclosed contract with the New England Patriots shortly after meeting with the team on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Free-agent TE Jerell Adams (Texans) was signed to the practice squad of the Houston Texans on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
New Orleans Saints RB Zach Zenner was released Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Free-agent DB Justin Bethel (Ravens) visited with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Detroit Lions S Quandre Diggs was traded along with a 2021 seventh-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round draft pick on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Free-agent RB Alfred Morris (Cowboys) signed an undisclosed contract with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson (knee) underwent a procedure on his injured knee Tuesday, Oct. 22, and will be placed on the Reserve/Injured list, according to head coach Matt Patricia.
Fantasy Spin: Initial reports had Johnson missing "some time," but an IR designation would pretty much knock him out for the rest of the season. Sixth-round rookie Ty Johnson should handle the majority of snaps in his absence and should be added in all leagues, while J.D. McKissic figures to take the bulk of the work in the passing game. It's also entirely possible the Lions bring back C.J. Anderson to assume at least part of the early-down workload after cutting him earlier in the season.
Arizona Cardinals LB Ramik Wilson was released Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Free-agent LB Deone Bucannon (Buccaneers) signed an undisclosed contract with the New York Giants on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Thielen (hamstring) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Houston Texans TE Logan Paulsen was released Tuesday, Oct. 22.
The San Francisco 49ers expect wide receiver Deebo Samuel (groin) to return in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers. Samuel missed Week 7 but appears ready to practice and play against a tough Panthers pass defense this Sunday. Despite showing exciting flashes this season, the rookie is averaging just 4.4 targets and 33.6 yards per game. His fantasy value will be further impaired with the acquisition of veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders. With the Niners leaning heavily on their running game and tight end George Kittle dominating target share, Samuel is gradually fading from redraft relevance. Hell be a desperation WR5 if he suits on in Week 8.
Minnesota Vikings CB Marcus Sherels was released on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Indianapolis Colts S Malik Hooker (knee) told reporters he expects to play in Week 8 versus the Denver Broncos. Hooker has been sidelined since Week 3 with a torn meniscus.
The San Francisco 49ers traded for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos on Tuesday. Reported by ESPNs Adam Schefter, the Niners will ship 2020 third and fourth round picks to Denver for Sanders and a 2020 fifth rounder. The 10-year pro should instantly upgrade a Niners receiving corps that have been anonymous outside of stud tight end George Kittle. However, Sanders should be downgraded fantasy-wise as he enters a run-heavy offense while competing for looks against Kittle, a versatile backfield and an amalgam of wideouts. Hell be a risky WR3 in Week 8 against a tough Carolina Panthers pass defense. Other losers in the deal are receivers Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel (groin) and Marquise Goodwin who all continue to slide outside of fantasy relevance.
New England Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu will make his Patriots debut in Week 8 against a Browns Defense that is allowing the 14th fewest fantasy points to receivers. Sanu was acquired via trade from the Falcons and immediately brings size and physicality to a banged up wide receiving group in New England. Sanu caught 66 passes last season for 838 yards and four touchdowns but has been held to only 313 yards with one touchdown this season. Sanu is an excellent addition as a player that can bring the kind of size in the red zone that the Patriots have been lacking due to a banged up Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski's retirement in the preseason. Sanu should be thrown right into the mix against a Browns defense that has allowed 10-plus fantasy points to eight different receivers this season. He may lack the amount of targets, however, to garner anything higher than a WR4 play in Week 8.