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.
Waiver Wire Adds: Week 4
Free-agent DT Myles Adams (Panthers, DB Damarious Randall (Raiders), DT Kobe Smith (Titans) and LB Tim Williams (Packers) tried out for the Seattle Seahawks Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Free-agent WR Ryan Switzer (Steelers) visited the Cleveland Browns Tuesday, Sept. 29.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was going to enter Week 4 as a premier unit no matter the circumstances. But after a COVID-19 outbreak within the Tennessee organization where multiple players and personnel tested positive (but were asymptomatic), Pittsburgh will face an offense that likely wont be able to practice for the entire week. Derrick Henry will be difficult to tackle no matter the prevailing circumstances, but the boost of facing off against a team that may be out of sync should make the Steelers a highly valuable defensive fantasy asset. The league may opt to push the contest to Monday, which would take Pittsburghs defense out of DFS consideration come Sunday, so fantasy managers will want to check back for the latest updates.
Free-agent WR Gary Jennings (Dolphins), QB Kyle Lauletta (Falcons) and WR Damion Willis (Browns) tried out for the Detroit Lions Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Free-agent DB Nate Brooks (Dolphins), WR Trevor Davis (Bears) and QB Shea Patterson (Chiefs) worked out for the Houston Texans Tuesday, Sept. 29. Undrafted free-agent Kelly Bryant (Missouri) also tried out.
Free-agent DB Nevelle Clarke (Vikings), DB Tino Ellis (Saints) and DB Teez Tabor (49ers) tried out for the Miami Dolphins Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook has hauled in just one reception for four yards this season, with the time that he has seen due primarily to DJ Chark Jr.s absence last Thursday versus Miami. After back-to-back seasons with 66 receptions, Westbrook will have an uphill battle to that level of production in 2020 due to the breakout nature of rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. Despite working his way back from an undisclosed off-season injury, there likely arent many fantasy managers still hanging on for production at this stage; Westbrook is a massive risk due to his slipping role among an offense that has a plethora of options when Chark is healthy.
Free-agent LB Kendall Donnerson (Raiders, OT John Leglue (Saints) and OT Timon Parris (Falcons) tried out for the Cincinnati Bengals Tuesday, Sept. 29.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense may have sustained significant blows by losing Nick Bosa (knee) and Solomon Thomas (knee) for the remainder of the season in Week 2, but that didnt stop them from looking strong against the Giants in Week 3. Looking ahead, theyll face a rocky Eagles offense that has had to answer questions about Carson Wentzs starting quarterback status since Sunday, with a Dolphins squad two weeks away that is quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has tossed three interceptions this season. While their status as the preeminent defensive unit may have taken a step back, San Francisco still unquestionably has a defense worth rostering and deploying on a weekly basis until the group proves otherwise.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard benefited greatly from Davante Adams (hamstring) absence during Week 3, amassing six receptions for a career-high 146 receiving yards and a touchdown. Should Adams continue to be sidelined this Sunday against Atlanta, Lazard would track up the board as a premier WR option due to the Falcons propensity for being burned by opposing wideouts through the first three weeks. Even if Adams is cleared to return, Lazard has clearly developed a rapport with Rodgers, hauling in 13 of the 17 targets that he has seen thus far in 2020. With other potential favorable matchups against Tampa Bay and Houston on the horizon, Lazard can be added in most season-long formats as an upside play for October, and potentially beyond.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Kenjon Barner, DB Ross Cockrell, WR Cyril Grayson and PK Greg Joseph were named to the Week 4 practice squad protection list Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Tennessee Titans LB Daren Bates, WR Cameron Batson, PK Tucker McCann and QB Trevor Siemian were placed on the Week 4 practice squad protection list Tuesday, Sept. 29.
The New York Giants have inked veteran running back Alfred Morris to the teams practice squad in a continued attempt to bolster their backfield situation in light of Saquon Barkleys (knee) season-ending absence. Morris last appeared in 2019 in one game for the Cardinals, receiving just one carry for four yards. His best days came as a member of Washington, where he was a two-time Pro Bowl selection in 13 and 14, before joining Dallas, where current Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was his head coach. Newly-signed Devonta Freeman carried the ball just five times Sunday versus San Francisco, although the score of the game likely dictated his workload more than the teams level of confidence in their new running back. Morris is a name to keep an eye on should he eventually be elevated to the active roster.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Deon Cain, RB Trey Edmunds, DE Henry Mondeaux and RB Wendell Smallwood were chosen as protected practice squad players for Week 4 Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Free-agent safety Earl Thomas III was set to have a workout with the Houston Texans on Tuesday, but COVID-19 related protocol scuttled that meeting. Things had advanced so far between the two sides that Thomas had already taken a physical with the organization. Released by Baltimore during pre-season activities following an altercation with a teammate, the seven-time Pro Bowler would be a sound addition to the Houston secondary. With the workout cancelled Tuesday, it does throw into flux the possibility that Thomas could be available this weekend when the Texans take on Minnesota. Having allowed at least 28 points in each of their first three contests, the Texans defense is currently not a fantasy option in any-sized format.
Houston Texans C Greg Mancz, DB Jonathan Owens and WR Devin Smith were named to the Week 4 practice squad protection list Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Jacksonville Jaguars TE Ben Ellefson, OT KC McDermott, DB Doug Middleton and TE Eric Saubert were named to the Week 4 practice squad protection list Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Cleveland Browns QB Garrett Gilbert, DT Joey Ivie, PK Matthew McCrane and OT Greg Senat were designated as protected practice squad players Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Chicago Bears QB Tyler Bray was selected as a protected practice squad player Tuesday, Sept. 29.
Arizona Cardinals DE Jonathan Bullard, DE Michael Dogbe, RB Jonathan Ward and DB Jace Whittaker were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 4 Tuesday, Sept. 29.