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.
Five Fantasy Takeaways from Week 3
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown was incredibly quiet in Monday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, catching two of his six targets and finishing with 13 yards. With Baltimore finishing with under 100 passing yards, Brown's numbers still put him third on the team in receiving yards, if you're looking for a positive to take away from this game. Brown's a high-ceiling and low-floor fantasy receiver who'll have a lot better performances than this one, and he probably won't have any worse ones either.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Devin Duvernay showed off his speed on Monday night, taking a kickoff 93 yards to the house for the first kick return touchdown of the 2020 NFL season. He was less effective as a receiver, catching two passes for seven yards. Duvernay is an intriguing young player who should see his role grow as the year progresses, but who also has his upside capped by the fact that Ravens throw so little. It's too early to add him in redraft leagues, but if you have a chance to get him at a low cost in dynasty, you might want to.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle caught the team's only offensive touchdown in the team's Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, with a five-yard grab on his only target of the game. Boyle has just four receptions through three games and while the touchdown was nice for anyone using him as a punt play in DFS, it didn't really help anyone in season-long leagues, and it shouldn't lead to you rushing out and putting a waiver claim in for a guy who just caught his third career touchdown in his sixth NFL season.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews led the team in targets on Monday against the Chiefs. Unfortunately, he couldn't bring most of them in, finishing with three receptions for 22 yards. Andrews had trouble with his hands all night. Usually a reliable tight end, we can probably chalk this one up to the struggles of the entire Ravens offense. Andrews remains a weekly TE1 play in season-long leagues.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram II couldn't find any room in Monday night's loss to the Chiefs, rushing seven times for 30 yards and failing to bring in his only target. Not a great showing from the veteran back, but he did have seven of the 12 carries for running backs on the night and remains the lead back. He's a solid RB2/3 option most weeks in a run-centric offense, but does have risk in games like this one where the game script takes the running backs out of the game. Thankfully for Ingram, the Ravens don't play many games like that.
On a night where the passing game never materialized, it was Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins who led the team in targets and yards, catching four passes for 38 yards. He added six rushing yards on one carry. The takeaways from this one are a bit of a mixed bag for fantasy managers. You like to see the targets, but who viable of an option can Dobbins really be if he's barely getting carries? He's still the highest upside back on this roster, but expect some uneven performances in the short term.
San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. had a fantastic fantasy game in Week 3 against the New York Giants. Wilson carried the ball 12 times for 15 yards and a touchdown and added three catches on three targets for 54 yards and a touchdown. Wilson saw extended opportunities with both Raheem Mostert (knee) and Tevin Coleman (knee) out. Jerick McKinnonhad two more carries and one more target than Wilson, but both players should see a lot of action for however long both Mostert and Coleman remain out.
Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver K.J. Hamler caught three of his five targets for only 30 yards in the 28-10 Week 3 loss to the Buccaneers. Hamler ran the ball once but lost two yards in the process. The speedy youngster has big-play ability, but it'll probably be few and far between that he can take advantage of that with backup quarterback Jeff Driskel leading the team right now with Drew Lock (shoulder) injured. Hamler could do some damage against a poor Jets Defense on Thursday night in Week 4, but he'll be a hail mary in terms of DFS and season-long leagues as long as Driskel remains the starter.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff and the team's offense couldn't get anything going in the first half against the Buffalo Bills, but they never stopped. They ran up 29 straight points against the Bills, and Goff was a major part of that. He finished the game 22-for-31 for 309 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also added two carries for four yards and a touchdown. Goff has given solid production in back-to-back weeks, and he's beginning to creep into the QB1 conversation with his safe floor on a weekly basis.
Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson had a big game in Week 2, and he followed it up with another great performance in Week 3. He finished the week against the Buffalo Bills with 20 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also caught one of his three targets for six yards. Henderson is solidifying his role as the lead back for this team, and he has a lot of a fantasy value in that role. If you have Henderson on your roster, he looks poised to give you RB2 production on a weekly basis with the way he's playing right now.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp made the most of his opportunities in Week 3, and he finally cashed in on the draft capital you had invested in him. He caught nine of his 10 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown. After failing to score in Weeks 1 and 2, he got into the end zone in Week 3 to give himself a huge day. Kupp gets a fair amount of targets every week, and you should have him locked into your lineups on the majority of occasions. This is the type of production that I would be expecting from moving forward.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods had a tough matchup in Week 3 against Buffalo Bills' cornerback Tre'Davious White, but that didn't stop him from turning in a solid performance. He caught four of his five targets for 62 yards and a touchdown. He also added three carries for 30 yards. This was a good bounceback game after a mostly quiet game in Week 2. The production we've seen from Woods in Week 1 and Week 3 is more indicative of what you can expect from him on a weekly basis.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds is his team's third option at receiver, but he had a solid game in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills. He caught four of his five targets for 60 yards. While this performance was good to see, it's not like he's been doing this on a regular basis. It's unclear if he's going to be able to produce at this level moving forward, and he's nothing more than a desperation option in uber-deep leagues as things stand right now.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee was unable to replicate his tremendous performance from Week 2 in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills. He caught both of his targets for 40 yards and zero touchdowns. In an offense that's loaded with weapons, Higbee is going to have weeks where he's quiet like this. He's still a consistent TE1 option, but you will need him to snag some touchdowns to truly elevate himself into the upper tier of players at the position.
The Los Angeles Rams Defense got torched in Week 3. The Buffalo Bills' offense ran up 35 points on them en route to their Week 3 win. They were able to get after quarterback Josh Allen a little bit, and they came away with four sacks, a fumble and an interception. They played extremely well through the first two weeks, and they are looking like they might be better than initially expected coming into the season. In the right matchup, they might give you a reasonable streaming option on a week-to-week basis.
Los Angeles Rams kicker Samuel Sloman started the day slow, but he was able to turn things on as the game wore on in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills. He went 1-of-2 on field goals while going 3-of-3 on his extra point attempts. This offense looks like it's going to return to their explosive ways that we've seen since head coach Sean McVay arrived, and that's going to give him value on a weekly basis. He might not have the highest ceiling among kickers, but he's a safe option to get you points every week.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continued his quest for his first MVP trophy with an explosive performance in Week 3. He completed 27-of-40 passes for 315 yards and five touchdowns. He also added six carries for 22 yards. His day could have been even better if it weren't for a huge mental mistake by wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Wilson is on the hottest pace that we've ever seen out of him, and he's going to continue to put up incredible numbers. He will be locked in as a top-five QB on a weekly basis barring extremely unforeseen circumstances.
Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller had a tough day against the Patriots, catching just two balls for nine yards on four targets. The Patriots clearly took notes after Waller's performance last week against the Saints. Waller was a non-factor, which is the complete opposite of what he did in Week 2. This performance is going to be more the exception than the rule for Waller going forward. Fantasy owners can chalk it up as an off day and look to next week. Waller remains one of the top tight ends in the league, and he will look to bounce back in Week 4 against the Bills. The Bills have one of the top defenses in the league, but don't expect to see the same performance from Waller.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson had been an RB1 through the first two weeks of the season, but that pace came to an end in Week 3. He finished with 14 carries for 64 yards to go with three catches for 12 yards. He was unable to get into the end zone despite three short opportunities, and that limited his ceiling against the Dallas Cowboys. Late in the fourth quarter, he sustained a leg injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the game. It will be important to pay attention to the news regarding that injury moving forward. If he were to miss any time, teammate Carlos Hyde would be the immediate beneficiary.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf had an exceptional game in Week 3, but it could have been even better. He caught four of his eight targets for 110 yards and a touchdown, but he should have had another. After catching an easy ball at the eight-yard line, he coasted to the one-yard line where he was stripped by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs. Metcalf was nearly uncoverable on the afternoon, and that's going to continue thanks to his supreme size and athleticism. Moving forward, he is a near-lock for your lineups on a weekly basis.