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
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy isn't ready to completely rule out quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) for Week 8 against the Eagles, but owner Jerry Jones said that Dalton "should be ready to go next week" against the Steelers. Rookie Ben DiNucci has taken all the first-team repetitions in practice this week and is in line to make his first career start after going 2-for-3 for 39 yards in relief of Dalton in Week 7. Dalton would need to practice on Saturday to have a chance at playing this Sunday, but that's a long shot at this point since he's still in the concussion protocol. Garrett Gilbert would serve as DiNucci's backup if Dalton is inactive. DiNucci shouldn't be considered anything more than a low-end QB2 in superflex leagues this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Todd Davis is being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive on Friday. Davis is being quarantined but the Vikings Week 8 game against the Packers remains on schedule for this Sunday. It's more bad news for a Vikings Defense that has really fallen apart in 2020. They already traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Ravens and rank 22nd in the league with 13 sacks through seven weeks of the season. Fantasy-wise, Minnesota ranks 29th in the NFL in overall fantasy points, which means they should continue to sit on the waiver wire this weekend against the high-scoring Packers attack.
New York Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios could be headed towards a big game with the team banged up heading into their Week 8 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. Both Jamison Crowder (groin) and Breshad Perriman (head) are considered questionable for Sunday's matchup. That means, Berrios could be in line for the start and plenty of targets here. He saw seven targets against the Buffalo Bills last week, but hauled in four of them for 35 yards in the loss. Berrios could see a heavy volume of targets this week, but he still remains a desperation deep league option.
The Seattle Seahawks plan to sign running back Alex Collins to their practice squad next week, according to sources. Collins flew in to Seattle on Thursday to start his COVID-19 testing. The 26-year-old was a fifth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2016, but he played just one season for them before landing with the Ravens for two years. He hasn't played in an NFL game since 2018 with Baltimore, however, when he was released following a car accident. Collins averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in his final season with the Ravens and lost his job at the time to Gus Edwards. Seattle is hurting at the position with Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer all banged up, so Collins will provide some much-needed depth. He can be ignored for fantasy purposes for now.
New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims made his NFL debut against the Buffalo Bills in Week 7. He finished with four receptions on seven targets for 42 yards in the loss. A decent outing for Mims, considering the Jets offensive unit is horrendous. It appears that the Jets want to get Mims heavily involved in the gameplan. His fantasy value is trending up with Jamison Crowder (groin) unlikely to suit up for the Week 8 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mims could make for an interesting PPR streaming option this week.
X-rays on Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (ankle) came back negative after he was knocked out of the Thursday night win over the Panthers in the second quarter, according to sources informed of the situation. Ridley will undergo an MRI exam to determine if he can return in Week 9 against the Broncos, and the good news is that Atlanta will have extra rest before that contest next Sunday. However, with a bye coming in Week 10, it's possible that the team plays it safe and holds Ridley out. He had three catches for 42 yards before leaving on Thursday and has 43 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns in eight games this year. Whenever Ridley is ready to play again, he needs to be in all fantasy lineups.
New York Jets wide receiver Breshad Perriman (head) entered the league's concussion protocol earlier this week. It's uncertain if Perriman will be cleared in time for the Week 8 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. He hauled in both of his targets for 27 yards last week versus the Buffalo Bills. Perriman has only finished with 30 receiving yards or more in a game once this season. The Jets offensive unit cannot be trusted besides Jamison Crowder. Fantasy owners should consider Perriman a desperation deep league option here.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (knee) tweaked his knee in practice on Thursday and underwent an MRI exam. His injury is considered to be minor, but his status for Week 8 against the Bills isn't clear. Losing the 30-year-old All-Pro shutdown cornerback would be a big loss this Sunday against the division-rival Bills and gunslinger quarterback Josh Allen. On the flip side, it would be a boost to the fantasy value of Bills No. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs, who would carry WR1 upside. The Patriots Defense is a streaming option for fantasy managers in a bind this week, but they certainly won't have as much upside if Gilmore cannot play.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said that quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) remains in the NFL's concussion protocol and that the team is preparing rookie Ben DiNucci to start in Week 8 against the Eagles. A final decision will be made on Saturday. "He's a confident young man. He has a lot of tools to work with," McCarthy said about DiNucci. Dalton is a long shot at this point to play against the division-rival Eagles, so DiNucci looks set to make his first career NFL start. He should be considered a desperation low-end QB2 for superflex leagues, while receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup need to be downgraded even against Philly's shaky secondary. The Eagles Defense will be a strong streaming option Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (foot) is missing practice again on Friday, making it likely that Giovani Bernard will be starting for the second straight week on Sunday against the Titans. Mixon didn't play in Week 7 and hasn't practiced at all this week, so things are looking grim for him suiting up this weekend. Bernard carried the ball a season-high 13 times for 37 yards in the Week 7 loss to the Browns, adding five catches for another 59 yards and his second touchdown of the season. He should see most of the backfield touches once again if Mixon is inactive, which will make him an RB2 against a Tennessee defense allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.
The Baltimore Ravens signed All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a five-year contract extension on Friday. It comes after the team recently signed cornerback Marlon Humphrey to a long-term deal, showing that they are committed to keeping their young talent on the roster for the long haul. Stanley has been a key asset for Baltimore's offensive line ever since he was taken sixth overall in the 2016 draft. The 26-year-old earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2019. The deal is for $98.75 million and carries $70.9 million in guarantees and locks in Stanley as quarterback Lamar Jackson's blind-side protector for years to come.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (foot) had X-rays on his injured foot, which were negative. He'll have an MRI to determine his fate for the next few weeks.
Fantasy Spin: Ridley will have about 10 days to heal up before Week 9, and the team has a Week 10 bye. He has been one of the few bright spots on the struggling team and remains a WR1.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman (knee) is likely headed to the Reserve/Injured list after having surgery to clean up his knee.
Fantasy Spin: Ian Rapoport also went as far to say that Edelman's knee was a bone-on-bone situation, which spells doom for a football player. You can stash Edelman on an IR spot for now in hopes of getting something from him in the stretch run, but this was a grim report for a gritty player.
Carolina Panthers WR Curtis Samuel caught four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown during the team's Week 8 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Samuel also carried the ball three times for 23 yards and a score.
Fantasy Spin: Samuel scored both of Carolina's touchdowns on Thursday night, one on a run up the middle and the other on a flea flicker. The fourth-year pro is a valuable do-it-all option for the Panthers offense, but gadget guys are tough to count on from one week to the next. Still, Samuel should be able to offer value as a flex most weeks.
Carolina Panthers WR Robby Anderson caught five passes for 48 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Oct. 29. Anderson was targeted eight times.
Fantasy Spin: Anderson led the way in targets and receptions but most of his work was underneath as, outside of a 27-yard grab, his four catches covered just 21 yards. Atlanta simply refused to let Carolina's WRs get over the top and seemed to be a step ahead of the Panthers protection schemes all night long. Nobody delivers every week at the receiver position, but Anderson remains a steady WR2 going forward.
Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Moore caught two passes for 55 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8. He was targeted six times.
Fantasy Spin: Moore hauled in a 42-yard jump ball on Carolina's final drive to salvage a little respectability from a game where he was otherwise a complete nonfactor. You can blame some of it on the elements, but the offensive line didn't help matters either as Teddy Bridgewater seemed to be constantly under pressure. Keep Moore in your lineup in Week 9 and hope for a better performance.
Carolina Panthers RB Mike Davis had 13 carries for 66 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Oct. 29. Davis also caught one pass for 11 yards.
Fantasy Spin: Davis looked physical against the Falcons Thursday night in what's likely to be his last start since Christian McCaffrey is expected to return in Week 9. While that should be the end of Davis' immediate value he's proven to be a quality handcuff for all Run CMC owners. A disclaimer: don't drop Davis until it's confirmed that McCaffrey will play against the Chiefs. Setbacks happen.
Carolina Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater (neck) completed 15 of his 23 passes for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, Oct. 29. He also ran five times for 30 yards.
Fantasy Spin: Even before exiting the game temporarily following a nasty hit to the head, Bridgewater wasn't getting much done, settling for a steady diet of shallow crossing routes amid surprising pressure from the Falcons. Entering the final drive he'd barely topped the century mark in passing yards and his final throw was a terrible interception that had zero chance to be completed. It'll be interesting to see if the offense adjusts significantly following the expected return of Christian McCaffrey in Week 9.
Atlanta Falcons RB Brian Hill had 11 carries for 55 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Week 8. He also caught two passes for nine yards.
Fantasy Spin: Thursday represented the second time in three games that Hill has hit double digits in carries, and he's averaging a respectable 46 total yards per game over the last month. That's not enough to give him standalone value most weeks, but given Todd Gurley's workload and injury history Hill is certainly someone you could feel good about stashing on your bench.
Atlanta Falcons TE Hayden Hurst logged five receptions (on seven targets) for 54 yards in a Week 8 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Fantasy Spin: While he hasn't quite been the second coming of Austin Hooper, Hurst has topped 50 yards receiving in five of his first eight games with the Falcons and is becoming a fairly reliable contributor at a position that's severely lacking in that department. Consider him a decent TE1.