Thu Oct 24 9:16pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush celebrates a touchdown after picking up a backward pass by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick celebrates his touchdown pass to DeVante Parker in the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, left, gets by Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Jatavis Brown as he runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
PITTSBURGH (AP) Mike Tomlin chose his words carefully. Partly out of habit. Partly out of respect.
Asked why the winless Miami Dolphins (0-6) have taken steps toward competency after a horrific start heading into Monday night's visit to Pittsburgh (2-4) - their last two losses have come by a combined 11 points - the Steelers coach played it down the middle.
''They are a professional football outfit,'' Tomlin said.
One that is starting to look like one - at least just a little - on defense. So forgive Tomlin if he views Miami as something more than a mere speed bump for his own banged-up team, which has a very slim window to resurrect its season. Yes, the Dolphins are rebuilding under first-year coach Brian Flores. Yes, they haven't won a game in over 300 days. Yet there's a freedom amid the misery. With no expectations, Flores can experiment as he pleases. He can order a fake field goal or an onside kick, as he's done in each of the last two games, and if it doesn't work, so what?
''What do you have to lose, right? What do we have to lose at this point?'' Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. ''I think that's part of the mentality and part of the mentality is just trying to get that to trickle down and rub off on everyone else, that aggression.''
Tomlin said that aggressive approach could be ''troublesome'' for an ''inexperienced quarterback.''
He's talking about Mason Rudolph, whose last appearance at Heinz Field ended when he slowly - very slowly - made his way to the sideline following a hit to the head by Baltimore's Earl Thomas that briefly left him unconscious. Given three weeks to recover, Rudolph said he's not concerned about any long-term effects of the harrowing collision that Thomas literally wiped from Rudolph's memory.
''I'm going to go play the game I've always played and play with the aggressiveness and if I need to extend the play, that's what's going to happen,'' Rudolph said. ''I'm not going to think twice about worrying about getting hit in the right spot. That's just the luck of the draw.''
Pittsburgh's path forward in 2019 without injured franchise cornerstone Ben Roethlisberger will rely heavily on how quickly the offense can create a distinctive identity behind Rudolph and whether the defense can continue its hot start even with defensive end Stephon Tuitt out for the season with a pectoral injury .
The Steelers are tied for second in the NFL in takeaways (15) and rank fifth in sacks (20). Yet they remain wary despite being 6-0 all-time against Fitzpatrick, who threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns against Pittsburgh last season while playing for Tampa Bay.
''We have everything to lose,'' Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds said. ''We can't really worry about what they've got going on. We've just got to come in and play our game because we've got to win. That's just our whole mindset. We don't want to lose any more games. That's how we're approaching each week. Regardless of their team record, if they're coming in undefeated, if they come in here with all losses, we've still got to go out there and play our game.''
The Dolphins' offensive line became a revolving door this year with personnel turnover that extended past the end of training camp. As coaches sort out their options and deal with injuries, Miami has had the same five starters for two games in a row only once.
But there are signs the group is beginning to mesh. Fitzpatrick wasn't sacked in last week's loss at Buffalo , and Miami topped 100 yards rushing for the first time.
''There's been so much improvement from Week 1 to now,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''A lot of that is just working together, whether it's at practice or just sitting at a lunch table. I think we all know each other a little bit now. Everybody knows each other's names, and that's something we didn't have in the first few weeks.''
OUTSIDE THE LINE(BACKERS)
The Steelers will be without backup outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, who is on the commissioner's exempt list following his Oct. 20 arrest on misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident with his girlfriend at a resort during the team's bye week. Chickillo was a fixture in the linebacker rotation alongside Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. Now it will be up to Ola Adeniyi and perhaps recently re-signed Jayrone Elliott to help pick up some of the slack.
''I think all of our guys that aren't front-line starters better have big-time versatility,'' Tomlin said. ''Playing right or left should not be significant in terms of their ability to put their hand in the pile and aid us, particularly at the outside linebacker positions.''
The Dolphins rank last in the NFL in passer rating, but their wideouts are a bright spot in the sputtering offense.
DeVante Parker has caught a touchdown pass in the past three games, the longest streak of his five-year career. Undrafted Preston Williams ranks second among all NFL rookies with 23 catches, which leads the Dolphins, and he also leads team with 314 yards receiving.
''I take pride in it, but it's nothing without wins,'' Williams said. ''Winning is No. 1 on my list.''
San Francisco 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a knee injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
New York Jets S Jamal Adams (ankle), OT Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle, illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) and DL Quinnen Williams (neck) did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 10. OT Kelvin Beachum (ankles), S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Steve McLendon (knee, hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot, hip) and DL Nathan Shepherd (ankle) were limited. RB Le'Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee, thumb), QB David Fales (elbow) and LB Paul Worrilow (quad) participated in full.
Baltimore Ravens LB Chris Board (concussion), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury) and DT Brandon Williams (non-injury) did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 10. TE Mark Andrews (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (quad) and DE Jihad Ward (elbow) were limited.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (abdominal) and CB Desmond Trufant (forearm) were placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Tuesday, Dec. 10. LB Ahmad Thomas was signed to the active roster, while TE Carson Meier and LB Quentin Poling were added to the practice squad.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury he suffered in Week 14 against the New York Giants, according to a source. The team is still reportedly gathering opinions about the exact injury, however.
Fantasy Spin: This injury wraps up yet another injury-shortened season for the 29-year-old, who has played a full season once in the last five years - averaging only 12 games over that span. Jeffrey is still due $12.75 million over each of the final two years of his deal, so he's probably not going anywhere this offseason. With Nelson Agholor also ailing, the Eagles could be forced to finish the season with Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and a few practice squad players at the position.
Arizona Cardinals DL Rodney Gunter (toe) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a toe injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10. DL Caraun Reid (Cardinals) was re-signed to an undisclosed contract to replace him on the roster after getting released over the weekend.
Washington Redskins CB Simeon Thomas was handed a four-game suspension by the NFL on Tuesday, Dec. 10, for violating the league's policy and program on substances of abuse.
Detroit Lions WR Marvin Jones (ankle) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with an ankle injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Fantasy Spin: The hits just keep coming for Detroit, which figures to lean on Kenny Golladay even more the rest of the way. Danny Amendola should also see more targets as well.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate (knee) was placed on the injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season. Tate sustained a mild MCL sprain in his left knee in the third quarter of the teams Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Damion Willis was promoted to the active roster in a corresponding roster move. Tate took advantage of all the injuries to the Bengals receiving corps this season, racking up a career-high 40 catches for 575 yards and one touchdown, and is a worthy hold in dynasty leagues heading into his third season.
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp played only 20 of a possible 68 snaps in Week 14 versus the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Spin: By comparison, Kupp logged 57 snaps in Week 13. Head coach Sean McVay defended the move by suggesting it was the cost of doing business in order to establish some offensive balance on early downs. However, the flaw in that reasoning is that Kupp's playing time should not be cut in favor of backup tight end Johnny Mundt. Meanwhile, Brandin Cooks didn't make a catch in his 61 snaps. Expect Kupp to return to his normal snap count in Week 15 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Free-agent CB Jamar Taylor (Seahawks) signed an undisclosed contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell is among the players the team is expected to make available via trade this offseason, according to sources.
Fantasy Spin: Bell is averaging only 49.1 yards rushing behind one of the league's worst offensive lines in his first season with the Jets, and it is becoming increasingly clear head coach Adam Gase either can't find a way to keep him involved in the offense or doesn't want to. A trade will be hard to accomplish as well, as the Jets would take a $15.5 million cap hit if they deal him and his hypothetical new team would have to find a way to fit one of the larger contracts at his position onto the roster.
Cincinnati Bengals WR Auden Tate (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a sprained left medial collateral ligament Tuesday, Dec. 10. WR Damion Willis was elevated from the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Fantasy Spin: Tate's emergence was probably the best thing to happen to the Bengals in an otherwise lost season. Assuming A.J. Green re-signs with the team in the offseason, Tate will probably push John Ross for the other starting outside job while Tyler Boyd remains the main slot receiver. Tate, who finishes this season with 40 catches for 575 yards and a touchdown, should be considered a solid late-round flier next summer in fantasy drafts.
Dallas Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Dec. 10. OT Mitch Hyatt was elevated from the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (foot) has been placed on Injured Reserve ending his season. It's an unfortunate, yet fitting, end to the rookie's season having battled injuries to his hamstring, abdomen, and a broken hand before a fractured foot put him on season-ending IR. Campbell finishes his rookie season with 18 catches for 127 yards and one touchdown. The Colts are still unsure of T.Y. Hilton's (calf) status for their Monday night game vs New Orleans, but it's looking increasingly likely Hilton misses the game. Assuming Hilton is out, Zach Pascal has interesting WR3 value with Marcus Johnson also in the mix in deeper fantasy leagues.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are expecting to get wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and running back James Conner (shoulder) back in time for their Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills. Neither has played since getting injured against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. Both players are expected to practice this week in what would be a big boost to the Pittsburgh offense as the team looks to remain in the playoff picture. Conner's return would come at an especially good time as Jaylen Samuels is looking questionable for this weekend with a groin injury. That being said, fantasy GMs need to temper their expectations for both players as the Bills have been stout on defense this season.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (abdomen) will be out for the remainder of the season after suffering an abdominal injury during the first half of Week 14's win over the Carolina Panthers. Ridley had a big game before the injury, catching five balls for 76 yards and a touchdown but went down before halftime and was unable to stand on his own. He was carted off the field and looked to be in significant pain. With Ridley out look for Russell Gage to slide in as the No. 2 receiver in Atlanta opposite Julio Jones. Gage is worth a look as a flex play in fantasy leagues going forward.
New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (ankle, illness) is not expected to play Thursday night at Baltimore. Powell, who was filling in for Le'Veon Bell (illness) injured his ankle at the end of the Jets Week 14 win over the Dolphins. Powell is also apparently dealing with the flu but head coach Adam Gase said the ankle is the bigger concern right now. Powell is yet to officially be ruled out, but all signs are pointing to him not suiting up this week. The good news for New York is Bell is reportedly close to 100 percent and should reclaim his starting role with Ty Montgomery working as a change of pace back. Powell can safely be dropped by those that picked him up for the Miami game.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (ankle) was spotted in a walking boot on Monday and left the locker room using a scooter. Head coach Doug Marrone told reporters that Chark is "week-to-week" with the injury, which puts the remainder of his season in jeopardy. Chark broke out in a big way for Jacksonville in 2019, catching 67 balls for 956 yards and eight touchdowns. With Chark sidelined, look for Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole to all see more chances within the Jacksonville passing attack.