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.
Dallas Cowboys WR Randall Cobb (back, hip) has been declared inactive for the team's Week 6 game.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield appeared to injure his lower back in the third quarter against the Seahawks. Mayfield was taken to the locker room for evaluation, but he promptly returned without missing a single snap and is currently back in the game. It appears Mayfield will tough this one out, but his Week 7 status needs to be monitored.
New York Jets WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) is officially active for the team's Week 6 game.
Fantasy Spin: Thomas likely will receive a handful of targets against the Dallas Cowboys, but fantasy players may be able to find better options for their lineups this week.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Dissly went down in Week 6 against the Browns with an injury to his achilles. The injury was non-contact, and Dissly was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game. At the time of the injury, Dissly was just targeted just once and failed to haul it in. Luke Willson is in at tight end for the rest of the afternoon, and currently has one catch for five yards. Dissly's Week 7 status is in doubt and needs to be monitored.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) has been declared inactive for the team's Week 6 game.
Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson (back) is officially active for the team's Week 6 game.
Fantasy Spin: Johnson likely will receive a lot of touches during the game despite the injury and should be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (groin) is officially active for the team's Week 6 game.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle is one of the best right ends in the NFL and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
The Panthers Defense brutalized the Tampa offense during the Week 6 matchup in London. With seven sacks on the day, including receiving 2.5 from Gerald McCoy against his former team, Carolina was relentless by also forcing quarterback Jameis Winston to throw five interceptions. With a week off, the team will have a stiff challenge against a sound 49ers offense in Week 8.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was targeted seven times against the Buccaneers on Sunday and finished with four catches for 52 yards. After failing to record a catch against the Jaguars in Week 5 while recording just two in Week 4, the veteran's performance in London was a slight improvement. Nonetheless, Olsen has been a disappointment from a fantasy perspective and should only be expected to produce efficient performances on sporadic occasions throughout the remainder of the season regardless of who is under center for the Panthers.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Dissly missed last season with an injury to his right knee, so this is a brand new injury to his left Achilles. We don't know the severity yet, but it was bad enough to immediately rule him out for the rest of the game. It took him a couple of minutes to get off the turf and it sure seems like this is a serious injury. Stay tuned. At tight end, Luke Willson will take over and he's an athletic TE who may become a threat.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber was unable to get anything going against the Panthers in Week 6, gaining just 28 yards on 10 carries on the day. Barber did get more carries than backfield mate Ronald Jones II, but could not find any holes and was otherwise a non-factor in what turned out to be a pass-heavy game. Barber has established himself through the first 6 weeks of the season as borderline unstartable in any fantasy format and should be treated as such. The Bucs have a bye in Week 7 before another tough matchup against the Titans in Tennessee in Week 8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II was unable to get going Sunday, gaining only 10 yards on four carries, but did score a touchdown to save his day. Jones again fell victim to the Bucs unpredictable backfield rotation after starting to seemingly separate himself from the pack, seeing fewer snaps and touches than fellow backfield mate Peyton Barber in Week 6. It will be hard for fantasy owners to trust any of the Bucs running backs until something changes in that backfield. Until then they can both be considered very low-end bye week fill-in options. The Bucs are off in Week 7 before a tough matchup against the Titans in Week 8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston disappointed fantasy owners in a big way Sunday, completing 30-of-54 passes for 400 yards and a touchdown to go along with an absurd five interceptions. Winston wasn't given an inch on the day, getting sacked seven times and losing a fumble in the process. Anything Winston did through the first four weeks to gain fantasy owner's confidence has been thrown out the window over the last two weeks. This shouldn't come as the biggest surprise though, as inconsistency has been the theme of Winston's career. The Bucs have a bye in Week 7 before a tough matchup against the Titans in Tennessee, Winston will slot in as a mid-range QB2 for that matchup.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel recorded four catches for 70 yards, while also recording a pair of touchdowns against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Samuel got it done in all areas in London, rushing for a score midway through the third quarter before catching a touchdown off of a 13-yard pass from quarterback Kyle Allen in the fourth. With Cam Newton (foot) potentially returning after the Week 7 bye, the 23-year-old will continue to split the bulk of the targets with fellow wideout D.J. Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey regardless of who is under center.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore recorded 73 yards off of seven catches during the win over the Buccaneers in London. With 10 targets on the day, Moore kept it going after recording six receptions for 91 yards against the Jaguars in Week 5. The quarterback situation remains a mystery as the team heads toward the bye, but the 22-year-old should remain involved regardless of who is under center while continuing to split the majority of the targets with Curtis Samuel, who finished with two touchdowns on the day.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey recorded just 57 total yards against Tampa Bay on Sunday, but still managed to find the end zone twice in Week 6. While McCaffrey was stuffed by the Buccaneers Defense by rushing for an abysmal 31 yards on 22 attempts, he offset his shoddy numbers with a touchdown run late in the first quarter, while acquiring his second off of a 25-yard pass from Kyle Allen. With the team heading into a bye, the potential MVP will look to keep it going in Week 8 against the 49ers.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen recorded his fourth straight win on Sunday against Tampa Bay in London. While Jameis Winston recorded five interceptions on the day, Allen was able to get it done by finishing with 227 yards and two touchdowns on 20-for-32 passing. With the Panthers heading into a bye, things will get interesting for the Panthers if Cam Newton (foot) can return for the Week 8 matchup with San Francisco. Fantasy managers will want to monitor the situation, but Allen should remain on rosters until Newton is officially back in the mix as a starter.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (ankle) is active against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kamara gets a juicy matchup in Week 6, though he might be limited. Even if he has a smaller role, he should still put up RB1 numbers against Jacksonville.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) is inactive against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 while tight end Mark Andrews (shoulder) will play. Andrews is a TE1 with upside, as quarterback Lamar Jackson will lean on him in the passing game. Ravens slot receiver Willie Snead could be a sneaky sleeper without Brown in the fold.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring) is officially inactive for Week 6. His absence should give the rest of the Kansas City offense more opportunities. In a likely shootout against the Houston Texans, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson are flex plays while Tyreek Hill is back and ready to resume his WR1 role.