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 7
The Philadelphia Eagles Defense played well on Thursday Night Football in a Week 7 win over the New York Giants. They allowed 21 points but recorded three sacks, an interception, and two fumble recoveries. In standard formats, the Eagles defense scored nine fantasy points, their second-best showing of the season. The Eagles defense will be a middling option next week in what will likely be a shootout against the Dallas Cowboys.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard returned from toe injury with six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Shepard hasn't played since Week 2, but made his return to the lineup felt as adding another weapon in the passing game helped the New York offense after they put up just 112 passing yards last week. Shepard can be added in 12-team fantasy leagues for those seeking WR help, but he draws a tough matchup with Tampa Bay in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver John Hightower only made one catch in Week 7, but he gained 59 yards on it and helped set up the Eagles for a comeback victory over the New York Giants. Hightower was targeted twice, both coming in the fourth quarter of the game. He looks like he's settling into a low-volume deep threat role, making him unreliable in most fantasy formats despite his potential for high-scoring individual plays. He's a worthwhile investment in best-ball formats but not a strong head-to-head or points league play yet.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward scored a touchdown in Week 7, helping the Eagles to a win over their division rival New York Giants. Ward caught a total of five passes, gaining 42 yards on six targets. His touchdown came on a short three-yard pass from quarterback Carson Wentz in the fourth quarter, putting the Eagles within one score. Ward was third on the team in targets and could have decent PPR value if the Eagles offense starts to get its bearings. Week 8 against the Cowboys "defense" could be a good time for that to happen.
The New York Giants Defense had a strong game for fantasy managers despite costing the Giants late as Carson Wentz marched the Eagles down the field for the win. Star cornerback James Bradberry led the unit with a key interception in the end zone in the first half. New York added three sacks to put up a respectable line for fantasy managers. After two good matchups, New York will face a stiff test in Week 8 against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside showed up in the Week 7 box score, catching his lone target for an eight yard gain. Arcega-Whiteside recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown last week, but has overall been one of the most disappointing second-round picks in recent history. For the season, the second-year receiver has two catches for 45 yards. He's well off the fantasy radar in all but Eagles-only fantasy leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles kicker Jake Elliott made his only extra point try and made one of his two field goal attempts in Week 7. Elliott made his kick from 31 yards out then missed one from just 29 yards out. Elliott has turned into a mostly low-volume kicker and the consistency he's had in the past seems to be gone. Elliott is not a recommended kicker in standard formats going forward, although he may have a few more opportunities next week against the Cowboys.
New York Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton had a quiet night on Thursday as he was blanketed by Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay. Slayton caught just two passes for 23 yards as New York's leading receiver was targeted just four times by QB Daniel Jones. Slayton has had big games this season, but has also gone silent at times as the second-year receiver has earned the dreaded boom/bust label in fantasy. He'll draw another tough matchup in Week 8 versus the Buccaneers.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Corey Clement only recorded three touches in a Week 7 win against the New York Giants. Clement was thought to possibly have a larger role with starter Miles Sanders (knee) out, but Boston Scott took over the Eagles backfield and Clement was nothing more than a change of pace. Clement ended up running the ball twice for nine yards and made one catch for a 12 yard game. He was only targeted that one time. Jason Huntley and Jalen Hurts received the same number of carries as Clement in this one. He'll be firmly off the fantasy radar regardless of the status of Miles Sanders in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers led the Eagles in receiving in a Week 7 win over the New York Giants. Rodgers had the most catches, gained the most yards, and was targeted the second-most on the team. The only thing he didn't do was find the end zone. Rodgers caught six passes on eight targets, gaining 85 yards. With Zach Ertz (ankle) and Dallas Goedert (ankle) both out, Rodgers ran as the primary tight end in an offense accustomed to involving their tight end in the passing game. With Ertz and Goedert both on IR, Rodgers could have another week of low-end TE1 value coming up in Week 8 against a very soft Cowboys Defense.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Travis Fulgham remained very heavily involved in the Eagles offense in a Week 7 win. Fulgham was targeted a team-high 11 times, making five catches for 73 yards. It was the first week that Fulgham was on the active roster where he did not score a touchdown, but he continued to operate as the surprising WR1 on the Eagles offense. With DeSean Jackson injured once again and looking like he'll miss even more time, Fulgham season looks like it will continue in Week 8 against the Cowboys.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram tied his season-high with six catches Thursday night that he turned into 46 yards. Engram added three rushing yards on two carries. The 46 yards are his second-highest total of the season and while he hasn't found the end zone, things are trending up for the fourth-year tight end. Engram had nine targets in this game after having just five in the previous two games. The Giants gave him a carry inside the five-yard line on their first drive as the offense needs Engram to get going. With the tight end position being a wasteland of fantasy football, Engram offers upside few others can match and has a high target-share in the New York offense. He's a startable tight end in 10-team leagues and larger.
New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate scored his first touchdown of the season and did nothing else on Thursday night in Philadelphia. Tate made a contested-catch which he took in for a 39-yard touchdown early in the game and was invisible from there as the veteran receiver didn't record another catch. Tate had just two targets on the night and should not be trusted unless his target-share increases. With Sterling Shepard back in the lineup, fantasy managers shouldn't bet on that happening.
The Denver Broncos Defense had one of their best performances of the season in the 18-12 upset win over the Patriots in Week 6. But even after turning the ball over three times last weekend and holding New England to only 12 points, Denver's D still ranks only 20th in the league with 4.8 fantasy points per game. They have only five total turnovers in five games (two fumble recoveries, three interceptions) but have been a bit above average with 14 sacks despite missing All-Pro pass-rusher Von Miller (ankle), who is out for the year. Against one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL in Kansas City, you should be looking to avoid the Broncos defense this week. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown 15 touchdowns to just one interception in six games this year, adding two touchdowns on the ground.
Denver Broncos rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was second on the team with six targets in his NFL debut in the Week 6 win over the Patriots, catching two passes for 45 yards. It was a nice showing for the large-bodied and speedy tight end in his first-ever NFL game. But with Noah Fant (ankle) trending up to return in Week 7 against the Chiefs, the 22-year-old Missouri product could go back to being a healthy inactive this Sunday. When Fant is healthy, he's been one of quarterback Drew Lock's favorite targets, and that is especially true with receiver Courtland Sutton (knee) out for the year. Even if Fant misses another game, Okwuegbunam would be a desperation low-end TE2 in the deepest of leagues.
New York Giants running back Dion Lewis handled three carries for 23 yards in a loss to the Eagles on Thursday. Despite starting running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) leaving after only three carries, Lewis was not a big part of the Giants' game plan as Wayne Gallman handled the bulk of the work in the Big Blue backfield. New York hasn't had enough success rushing the ball this season for Lewis to be a fantasy asset in most fantasy leagues.
Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus was the hero for both the Broncos and for fantasy managers that started him in the Week 6 win over the Patriots. He accounted for all of the team's 18 points on his six made kicks, including two from 50-plus yards out and two from 40-plus yards. McManus has one of the strongest legs in the NFL, but his Week 6 performance was his only real fantasy relevant one of the year because of the inconsistent nature of the offense in which he resides. The 29-year-old certainly won't be able to win the game himself in Week 7 against the high-flying Chiefs offensive attack, which makes McManus one to avoid for lineups this weekend. KC has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to the kicking position as well.
New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman came off the bench to have a productive game in a one-point loss to the Eagles on Thursday. Starting running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) exited with an injury after three carries and Gallman led the backfield from there. Gallman handled 10 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown while adding five catches for 20 receiving yards. The touchdown came from one-yard away as Gallman handled the goal-line work and fourth-quarter carries while the Giants thought they were salting away a win. If Freeman misses time, Gallman will be a hot waiver-wire addition as his role in this offense should make him the RB to own in New York.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had his best game in a long time in a Week 7 comeback win over the division rival New York Giants. Wentz led a fourth quarter game-winning drive and in total completed 25 of his 43 passes for 359 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also ran the ball seven times for 14 yards and another score. Wentz looked like Carson Wentz in a lot of this one, but there were still quite a few of the warning signs that he's shown all season. Still, those brave enough to have him in their starting lineups were certainly happy with what he did on the field tonight. Wentz may sneak into the lower end of QB1 consideration next week when he takes on what the Cowboys call a defense.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott played well in place of the injured Miles Sanders (knee) in a Week 7 win over the New York Giants. Scott ran the ball 12 times for 46 yards and also caught three passes for another 46 yards and a touchdown. Scott was targeted five times in the passing game, and his touchdown came on an 18-yard pass from Carson Wentz that completed the Eagles comeback in the fourth quarter. Scott might get another chance to lead the backfield next week if the Eagles choose to keep Sanders out through their Week 9 bye. If so, Scott will be a solid RB2 against a Cowboys Defense that can't do anything right.