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.
The Vikings Defense is again ranking among the NFL's best through six weeks. They rank fifth in yards allowed per game (310.3), fifth in yards allowed per play (4.8), sixth in points allowed per game (15.5), and 10th in sacks (17). They face the Detroit Lions on the road in Week 7 in a pivotal divisional matchup. Though the Lions have some nice weapons in Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, and veteran Matthew Stafford, the Vikings shouldn't have too much trouble keeping them contained in what projects to be a low-scoring affair. Stafford has only thrown two interceptions this year but also has four fumbles (two lost). Start the Vikings Defense as a top-eight play in Week 7.
Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison remains the clear backup to starter Dalvin Cook, but the rookie has started to emerge as a player who could be used as a bye week streamer in favorable matchups. Mattison rushed 14 times for 63 yards in Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that ranks among the league's best at stopping the run. He has notably received at least seven carries in 4-of-6 games as the Vikings remain a very run-heavy team. The Lions are being torched by the run this year and give up the third-most fantasy points to running backs, so Mattison could provide some great value if he can approach 10 touches in this game. Only start Mattison if you're in desperate need of a deep league FLEX option in Week 7 - he's still best viewed as a high-priority handcuff.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs should be started as a low-end WR2 in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions. He went nuclear in Week 6 with seven catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns, but the Lions Defense is tough against outside receivers and there's a chance that he's shadowed by shutdown corner Darius Slay. There's also a high likelihood of the Vikings featuring Dalvin Cook in the run-game as the Lions haven't stopped anyone on the ground so far this season. Diggs should be in lineups as a WR2/3 but remains difficult to trust in tough matchups and with the Vikings' run-first attack.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin should see a bump in usage with Deebo Samuel (groin) ruled out in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. Goodwin leads all Niner wideouts in snaps but has surpassed 45 receiving yards just once this season. With the team heavy favorites and the Redskins pass defense inept at handling shorter routes, Goodwins skillset could be marginalized. Expect the Niners to keep pounding the rock on the ground and tight end George Kittle to continue dominating targets. Goodwin needs just one big play to return fantasy value but hes a low-floor WR4. Receivers Kendrick Bourne and Richie James Jr. will likely share snaps voided by Samuel.
Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) didn't practice all week but is questionable for Week 7 against the Seahawks. Brown missed last week and is certainly on the wrong side of questionable this weekend. Making things even more difficult for fantasy owners is the fact that Brown and the Ravens kick off in the afternoon on Sunday. He's an extremely risky WR3 if he suits up. If Brown misses his second straight game, Willie Snead, rookie Miles Boykin, Seth Roberts and Chris Moore will have increased roles. Snead and Boykin have the most upside, but even they would be more of WR5 options in a run-first offense. Tight end Mark Andrews would be the only fantasy lock if Brown were inactive.
Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph (hamstring) is questionable for Week 7 against the Colts, but he's expected to return and will likely be tasked with slowing down wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring) is questionable but is not expected to play. Safety Tashaun Gipson (hip) is questionable but is expected to play. It's good news that the Texans will have both Joseph and Gipson in their secondary, but Houston's defense/special teams is a low-upside fantasy streamer during bye weeks.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (non-injury) fully participated in practice Friday, Oct. 18, and is not on the injury report for Week 7.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett has caught each of his last 11 targets over the last three games and is the main option in the passing game. He is a must-start option in all leagues despite the matchup.
Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson (non-injury) fully participated in practice Friday, Oct. 18, and is not on the injury report for Week 7.
Fantasy Spin: Carson has been one of the best running backs over the last three weeks and will continue to receive plenty of touches in the offense. He should be a starting option in every league this week.
Seattle Seahawks TE Will Dissly (Achilles) did not participate in practice Friday, Oct. 18, and has been ruled out for Week 7. S Lano Hill (elbow) did not practice and is listed as doubtful. OT Duane Brown (biceps) and S Bradley McDougald (back) missed practice and are listed as questionable. OG D.J. Fluker (hamstring), DE Quinton Jefferson (oblique) and DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle) were limited during practice and are listed as questionable. LB K.J. Wright (knee) fully participated in practice and is not on the injury report.
Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Brown (hamstring) did not participate in practice Friday, Oct. 18, and has been ruled out for Week 7. C Joe Looney (back) did not practice and is listed as questionable. DE Dorance Armstrong (neck), OT La'el Collins (knee), CB Byron Jones (hamstring), OG Zack Martin (ankle, back) and OT Tyron Smith (ankle) were limited during practice and are listed as questionable. LB Sean Lee (knee, non-injury) did not practice but is not on the injury report. P Chris X. Jones (back) were limited during practice but is not on the injury report. C Travis Frederick (non-injury) and RB Tony Pollard (knee) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Los Angeles Rams LB Clay Matthews (jaw) was unable to practice all week and has been ruled out for Week 7 versus the Atlanta Falcons. RB Malcolm Brown (ankle) also did not practice all week and is listed as doubtful. S Eric Weddle (non-injury) did not practice Friday, Oct. 18, but was removed from the injury report. CB Jalen Ramsey (non-injury) and RB Todd Gurley (quad) practiced in full Friday and also no longer appear on the injury report.
Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup (knee) was limited during practice Friday, Oct. 18, but is not on the injury report for Week 7.
Fantasy Spin: Gallup could be the main option in the passing game this week because of the injuries to Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb. Gallup can be considered a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (ankle, quadriceps) was limited during practice Friday, Oct. 18, and is listed as questionable for Week 7.
Fantasy Spin: Cooper is expected to be able to play this week, but fantasy players will need to check the inactive list for his official status. He will be a risky option if he plays but can still be a starting option in fantasy leagues.
Houston Texans OL Tytus Howard (knee) and OL Greg Mancz (concussion) did not participate in practice all week and have been ruled out for Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts. CB Johnathan Joseph (hamstring), CB Bradley Roby (hamstring) and S Tashaun Gipson (hip, wrist) were limited and are listed as questionable. LB Zach Cunningham (knee), WR Will Fuller (calf, oblique), WR DeAndre Hopkins (ribs), RB Carlos Hyde (calf), RB Taiwan Jones (hip) and WR Kenny Stills (hamstring) were able to practice in full Friday, Oct. 18, and have been removed from the injury report.
New York Jets DE Henry Anderson (shoulder), OT Kelvin Beachum (ankle), RB Trenton Cannon (ankle, foot), LB Neville Hewitt (knee, neck), LB Albert McClellan (concussion), OG Kelechi Osemele (shoulder), OG Alex Lewis (neck) and FS Rontez Miles (non-injury) did not participate in practice Friday, Oct. 18. CB Nate Hairston (knee), LB C.J. Mosley (groin), CB Darryl Roberts (ankle), C Ryan Kalil (shoulder), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring) and OG Brian Winters (knee, shoulder) were limited during practice. LB Blake Cashman (ankle), WR Josh Bellamy (shoulder), LB Brandon Copeland (thumb), S Blake Countess (hamstring), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), LB Jordan Jenkins (ankle), DE Trumaine Johnson (thigh), DT Quinnen Williams (ankle) and LB Tarell Basham (heel) fully participated in practice.
Indianapolis Colts WR Parris Campbell (abdominal), DL Tyquan Lewis (ankle) and CB Kenny Moore II (ankle) did not practice all week and have been ruled out for Week 7 versus the Houston Texans. S Malik Hooker (knee) was upgraded to a full practice Friday, Oct. 18, but is listed as doubtful. CB Pierre Desir (hamstring) and DE Justin Houston (calf) remained out of practice and are listed as questionable. OG Quenton Nelson (hip) was added to the injury report Friday and is also listed as questionable. S Clayton Geathers (rest), DL Denico Autry (rest), OT Anthony Castonzo (rest), WR T.Y. Hilton (rest) and DE Jabaal Sheard (rest) did not practice Friday but have been removed from the injury report. LB Zaire Franklin (hamstring) and TE Eric Ebron (illness) logged a full practice Friday and also no longer appear on the injury report.
Dallas Cowboys WR Randall Cobb (back) was limited during practice Friday, Oct. 18, and is listed as questionable for Week 7.
Fantasy Spin: Cobb's status for Week 7 is still uncertain, so fantasy players will need to check the inactive list for his official status. He has posted decent numbers this season but can be benched if better options are available.
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley has been put on the trade block with the deadline approaching, according to a league source. The former first-round pick is making $12.8 million this year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. The 27-year-old had a career-high 15.5 sacks in 2016 but had a combined 10 sacks the following two seasons as the Falcons moved him around. He has 12 total tackles and 1.5 sacks through six games in 2019. He's off the IDP radar for now, but he could become more attractive if he lands in the right spot.
Arizona Cardinals DL Zach Allen (neck), OL Brett Toth (illness) and RB D.J. Foster (hamstring) did not practice Friday, Oct. 18, and have been ruled out for Week 7 against the New York Giants. RB David Johnson (ankle), DL Zachariah Kerr (ankle), LB Zeke Turner (hamstring), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Dennis Gardeck (ankle), WR Christian Kirk (ankle), P Andy Lee (hip) and S Charles Washington (shoulder) were limited Friday and are listed as questionable. OL Joshua Miles (illness) was added to the injury report Friday and is also listed as questionable. LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury) did not practice Friday but no longer appears on the injury report. S Chris Banjo (illness), WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury) and DL Corey Peters (non-injury) fully participated in practice Friday and have also been removed from the injury report.