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.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst had just one catch for four yards during the win over the Bengals on Sunday. Even with Marquise Brown (ankle) out of the lineup, Hurst continued to be a non-factor in the team's offensive attack. He likely won't have a consistent role moving ahead, especially with Mark Andrews in the mix, but he will be good for an occasional touchdown from time-to-time.
Baltimore Ravens running back Justice Hill had 31 yards on five carries in the win over Cincinnati on Sunday. With Lamar Jackson going crazy on the Bengals Defense by rushing for 152 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts, Hill continued to play second fiddle to Gus Edwards, who had just three more yards than the former. Nonetheless, outside of dynasty formats, Hill has relatively no fantasy value at the moment, with that likely to continue until either Mark Ingram or Edwards goes down with an injury.
Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards finished with 34 yards on six carries during the win over the Bengals on Sunday. Averaging just over seven touches per game, this type of performance has been the norm for the 24-year-old this season. He should continue to outpace Justice Hill but don't expect much of anything from a fantasy standpoint unless Mark Ingram goes down with an injury.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Seth Roberts pulled in both of his targets against the Bengals on Sunday, finishing with just 23 yards in a game that was highlighted by the play of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who rushed for 152 yards on 19 carries. While Marquise Brown (ankle) wasn't in the lineup, Roberts wasn't able to get anything going. Continue to not expect much from 28-year-old, however, even if Hollywood misses more time in the weeks ahead.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin had two catches (three targets) for 28 yards against the Bengals in Week 6. Though Marquise Brown (ankle) wasn't in the lineup, quarterback Lamar Jackson virtually monopolized the team's offensive attack by rushing for 152 yards on 19 carries. Don't expect much from Boykin moving forward in all formats, even if Hollywood misses some more time.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead had three catches for 18 yards on Sunday. With Lamar Jackson and company running all over the Bengals Defense, Snead was unable to get involved despite the absence of Marquise Brown (ankle), who was ruled out for the week. The 26-year-old continues to be included as the No. 3 receiving option outside of Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, often picking up the duo's leftovers from week-to-week. He still has value in deeper PPR formats, with his stock rising if Hollywood misses more time.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright pulled in just one catch for six yards against the Buccaneers in London. With Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel gobbling up most of the targets from week-to-week, Wright has relatively no fantasy value at the moment. If one of those guys gets injured, his stock may rise, but not enough to make a difference from a fantasy standpoint.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway caught two of his four passes for 22 yards in a 32-28 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6. A week after dropping a would-be touchdown in the end zone, Callaway again struggled to hold onto the ball. He dropped two catchable passes, including one that would have gone for a long gain in the first quarter. The second-year receiver was suspended for the first four games of the season, so it is possible that he is still shaking off the rust. Even so, he will have a tough time making an impact in fantasy as long as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are healthy. Callaway has his bye in Week 7 before a tough road matchup against the New England Patriots in Week 8.
Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins pulled in three receptions for 39 yards on Sunday against the Chiefs. With DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller getting the majority of looks from quarterback Deshaun Watson throughout the season, Akins continues to be virtually an afterthought as he received fewer targets than fellow tight end Darren Fells, who finished with seven on the day. Akins still has value in deeper formats, but his success is dependent on whether he can find the end zone, while also hinging on the health of Fells moving ahead.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Marqise Lee (ankle) is considered week-to-week after suffering a sprained ankle that has been described as 'minor to moderate' in Week 6 versus the New Orleans Saints, according to a source.
Tennessee Titans QBs Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill are expected to find out Monday, Oct. 14, who will start in Week 7 versus the Los Angeles Chargers. Head coach Mike Vrabel announced the decision will be made sometime Monday evening.
Fantasy Spin: It's a pretty good indication Tannehill will be named the starter, as most coaches have no problem shooting down any such speculation immediately when they feel strongly about the man holding the job. Mariota was playing turnover-free ball until Week 6, but the Titans have seemingly been trying to hide him for the better part of the season - if not longer. However, it's debatable whether Tannehill will provide much of a spark to the offense, leaving him firmly in QB2 territory.
Having not played since suffering a calf injury in a Week 1 loss to the Ravens, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson returned to action in a 17-16 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday, finishing with five receptions on six targets. Wilson's six targets tied him with Preston Williams for the most among Miami wide receivers, which should be a good sign for his usage going forward. Unfortunately, that ends the good news of his stat line, as Wilson's five catches were good for a total of only 15 yards, with eight of those coming on one play. Until Miami's offense becomes something less than terrible and until Wilson starts using his elite speed to get looks down the field, "Fast" Albert needs to stay parked on the waiver wire. Hey-hey-hey.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn saw just four targets in Sunday's win over the Dolphins, collecting two of them for a total of eight yards. This was the third consecutive game in which Quinn was targeted only four times, and also the third straight contest in which he failed to break 20 yards receiving. On the rare occasions the Redskins offense has functioned well, it's been with Case Keenum at the helm. Assuming the veteran holds onto the starting job for the foreseeable future, he figures to provide his pass-catchers with the best chance at producing. Quinn's usage rate unfortunately suggests he's not going to see many opportunities regardless of who is throwing the ball. He can continue to be ignored in all formats.
Indianapolis Colts S Clayton Geathers (concussion) and LB Darius Leonard (concussion) have been cleared from the league's concussion protocol.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams was a popular sleeper heading into a favorable Week 6 matchup, as the Washington Redskins were bringing in one of the league's worst defenses. However, those bold owners who took a chance on Williams were rewarded with a dud, as he caught just two passes for 31 yards and no touchdowns in a 17-16 Miami loss. While his six targets were tied with Albert Wilson for the most among wide receivers, Williams has received more than seven targets just once this season and has only one touchdown and 232 yards in Miami's five games. Given his lack of production and with Miami's offense a total mess, Williams is just one of many Dolphins who should not be on anyone's fantasy roster.
Free-agent TE Benjamin Watson (Patriots) is expected to re-sign with the New England Patriots after the team released him last week. Per ESPN's Mike Reiss, the Patriots did not have a roster spot for him at that time, but injuries have altered the picture.
Fantasy Spin: It seems unlikely Watson is going to make much of a fantasy impact upon his (likely) return, but the tight end position is so weak in fantasy at the moment that anything is possible. Most owners can probably afford to sit back and wait to see how this thing plays out, but it's not out of the question Watson becomes a starter for New England in short order and able to contribute three or four catches per game.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Daesean Hamilton struggled once again in Week 6, as he continues to scratch and scrap for any production that he can carve out of Denver's offense. The 2nd-year Penn State product hauled in both targets thrown his way for a total of 25 yards against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon. Hamilton has yet to have a solid performance this year and there is not much indicating a change in that regard. He takes the field next in a Thursday night matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (abdomen) is reportedly making progress but not expected to practice Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Fantasy Spin: It's getting harder and harder for fantasy owners to hold onto Jackson, who made an early exit in Week 2 and hasn't played since. With that said, he should be able to return to game action within the next week or two given the fact the team seems close to declaring him ready to practice. It might take some time for him to get his conditioning back, but it is clear the offense needs him. He will likely be worth the wait once he does return and should still be considered a high-upside WR3 in fantasy.
Philadelphia Eagles CBs Jalen Mills (hamstring) and Ronald Darby (foot) are expected to resume practicing Wednesday, Oct. 16, and could play Week 7 versus the Dallas Cowboys.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Devante Parker made the last of his three receptions count on Sunday, with an 11-yard touchdown catch with just six seconds remaining in Miami's 17-16 loss to the Washington Redskins. Parker has now caught a touchdown in his last two games but was only targeted a total of eight times in those two, after averaging just under seven targets in his previous three. The speedy receiver only received four targets on Sunday, putting him behind five other players, all of whom received at least six looks. Getting less and less attention in an offense that's going nowhere fast, there are few reasons to take a flyer on Parker with Miami facing Buffalo's top-ranked pass defense in Week 7.