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.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen) missed another practice on Thursday. The Eagles were optimistic about Jackson playing this weekend for the first time since Week 2, but that's looking like more of a long shot if he can't get on the practice field. A notoriously slow healer, D-Jax might be more likely to come back in Week 8 against the Bills on the road. The Eagles desperately need Jackson's deep-threat abilities to open up their offense. If he sits out again, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins will continue to operate in three-wide sets on Sunday night against the Cowboys.
New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman (concussion) practiced in full on Thursday. After missing last Thursday's contest, Gallman looks to be on track to return in Week 7 against the Cardinals. However, Saquon Barkley (ankle) is also practicing in full and should be able to return after a two-game absence. Gallman will be a little-used backup for the Giants if Barkley is starting and playing his normal allotment of snaps. Gallman would only be on the RB2/3 borderline if the Giants play it cautious and hold Barkley out for another week. With Barkley healthy, Gallman is strictly a handcuff for Barkley owners.
Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson (toe) remained sidelined at practice for the second straight day Thursday. It's looking unlikely that Thompson plays in Week 7 against the 49ers while dealing with a minor case of turf toe. Adrian Peterson should see another heavy workload this Sunday, but it might not matter against San Fran's strong defensive front. If Thompson is inactive this weekend, expect Wendell Smallwood to handle most of the pass-catching duties out of the backfield. He'd strictly be a desperation RB3/flex in deep PPR leagues.
New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), who missed last Thursday's game, was moving around well at practice on Thursday. Dorsett is on track to play on Monday night against the Jets. It's welcomed news, too, as Josh Gordon (knee) is questionable to play after getting injured last Thursday. It's looking like Julian Edelman and Dorsett will be New England's top two receivers for this week. Dorsett will have sneaky flex appeal for fantasy owners in a good matchup if Gordon doesn't play.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) will not practice again on Thursday. The Bengals aren't rushing their No. 1 receiver back, and he's highly unlikely to play in Week 7 against the Jaguars. With Cincy's bye coming in Week 9, it's possible that Green doesn't make his season debut until Week 10 against the Ravens. The Bengals (0-6) have no reason to rush the veteran at this point in a lost season. With Green still sidelined, Tyler Boyd will have WR1 upside this weekend against a Jaguars Defense that just traded their top cornerback in Jalen Ramsey. It's a great week for Boyd to bounce back from his clunker in Week 6. Auden Tate also has flex appeal at home in this matchup.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said that quarterback Mitch Trubisky (shoulder), who practiced in full on Wednesday, is "feeling good." All signs point to Trubisky returning in Week 7 to face the Saints after missing the London game in Week 5. If that happens, backup Chase Daniel will go back to holding the clipboard. The Saints allow the 11th most fantasy points per game (24.1) to signal-callers, but Trubisky and Chicago's passing game has been wildly mediocre through five games in 2019. It's best to treat Trubisky as a low-upside, midrange QB2 if he returns to action in Week 7.
Dallas Cowboys wide receivers Amari Cooper (ankle, quadriceps) and Randall Cobb (back) both missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Both players are on the wrong side of questionable right now for Sunday night against the Eagles. Until further notice, plan on being without both of them. That would put Michael Gallup as the No. 1 receiver with Tavon Austin in the slot and Cedrick Wilson out wide in three-receiver sets. Gallup is the only viable option for starting lineups outside of much deeper leagues. The good news is that offensive tackles Tyron Smith (ankle) and La'el Collins (knee) both returned to practice, so Dallas' offensive line might be near full strength to face Philly's strong defensive front. Tight end Jason Witten should see more targets as well if Cooper and Cobb sit out.
New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon (knee) and tight end Matt LaCosse (knee) were not at practice on Thursday. Gordon was injured last Thursday night and didn't return to the game. He's in serious danger of sitting out on Monday night against the Jets, and he's even more difficult to trust with the game being on Monday. With Phillip Dorsett also banged up, it could be Julian Edelman, rookie Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski in three-receiver sets for the Pats. Edelman would obviously be a must-start, while Meyers would simply be a dart throw as a flex in deeper formats. LaCosse will miss at least a few weeks. Ryan Izzo should perform as the team's primary tight end, but he should be faded in fantasy.
Buffalo Bills running back T.J. Yeldon has served as the Bills' No. 2 running back behind Frank Gore since Week 3, after the team lost Devin Singletary (hamstring) to an injury. Singletary is looking likely to make his return in Week 7, which is bad news for Yeldon. Yeldon had a season-high 10 touches in Week 3, then had a total of 10 touches the next two games. If Singletary is active, Yeldon may not see the field more than a few times this week. Even if Singletary is inactive, Yeldon still won't get enough opportunities to warrant starting him. He should be on waivers in all leagues.
Buffalo Bills running back Frank Gore has received at least 16 touches in four straight games. This week, he faces a Dolphins Defense that just allowed Adrian Peterson and the Redskins to run all over it. Gore has a fantastic opportunity to rack up around 100 rushing yards with a good chance to score, making him a high-end RB2 this week. The team's No. 2 running back Devin Singletary (hamstring) is looking likely to make his return this week, which could cost Gore a few touches, but nothing significant enough to warrant benching Gore.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley has 27 catches through five games this year, a sturdy total for PPR leagues. This week, Beasley and the Bills have a favorable home matchup against the Dolphins. Beasley should be able to get open at will, making him a solid candidate for around six or seven catches. The team's No. 1 receiver John Brown (ankle) is currently questionable for the game. If Brown sits, Beasley could be a low-end WR3 or flex option in non-PPR leagues, but if Brown is in, Beasley should be considered for PPR only.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has had a bumpy start to the year with seven interceptions and a lost fumble over five games. This week, however, he has an ideal matchup at home against the Dolphins. He has a good chance to put his turnover woes to rest and deliver some solid yardage through the air and on the ground. He should be able to contribute at least two touchdowns on the day as well. He's a fantastic, low-risk QB2 in two-quarterback leagues and a low-end QB1 option in one-quarterback leagues.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown (groin) was a limited practice participant on Wednesday and is currently questionable for Week 7. Assuming he's able to practice in full before Sunday and take the field, he is a solid high-end WR3 or flex play in a favorable home matchup against the lowly Dolphins. Brown has caught at least five passes in all but one game this year and leads the Bills with 390 receiving yards. As long as he is active in Week 7, he should be able to catch about five or six passes for around 70 yards with a chance to score.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) said he'll warm up and see how he feels on Sunday, but he's also planning to take it slow with the team's bye coming in Week 8. Smith is unlikely to play in Week 7 against the Seahawks. The 31-year-old has yet to play this year and his absence has been a big reason why Baltimore's defense as a whole hasn't played up to expectations. Marlon Humphrey has played his part, but the rest of the secondary has been extremely vulnerable and also lost Tony Jefferson for the year. It's why the Ravens just traded for cornerback Marcus Peters, and they're hoping he can help shore up their pass defense moving forward. The Ravens Defense/special teams shouldn't be on the streaming radar with Seattle on deck and Russell Wilson playing at an MVP level.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (hamstring) was a full practice participant on Wednesday. Even though he is still listed as questionable for Week 6, he appears to be on track to take the field and make his first appearance since Week 2. The Bills have an excellent matchup at home against the Dolphins, which makes Singletary enticing as a start option, but it's hard to know just how involved he'll be in a game the Bills should win handily. The team's No. 1 running back Frank Gore will no doubt shoulder the workload while Singletary will likely see around five touches.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams (foot) is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot, a condition that has kept him off the field since Week 4, according to head coach Jon Gruden. Its not getting much better, Gruden said. Williams didn't practice leading up to the London game and hasn't practiced yet this week. He leads the team's receivers with 17 catches for 216 yards and four touchdowns in four games this year. All other Raiders receivers have combined for 28 catches for 225 yards and one score. Plan to be without Williams again this weekend if you own him. The Raiders will likely roll with rookies Hunter Renfrow and Keelan Doss and recently acquired Zay Jones in three-receiver sets against Green Bay if Williams misses another game. Expect Oakland to lean heavily on running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller.
The Miami Dolphins have had trade talks with teams centered around running back Kenyan Drake, and they would trade him if the right offer presents itself, according to sources. Drake has had no extension talks with Miami since training camp and would welcome a change of scenery. He's been the team's lead back this year, but it hasn't amounted to much for production for a tanking team. Drake has carried the ball 41 times for 153 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and also has 19 receptions for 137 yards. He has yet to find the end zone and has become an unappealing RB3/flex in deeper leagues, especially with the Dolphins looking to get Mark Walton more involved of late. There's no guarantee that a trade would make him more attractive to fantasy owners.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not looking to trade tight end O.J. Howard this year, according to sources. The former first-round pick had high expectations for him in head coach Bruce Arians' offense in 2019, but so far he's looked more like a glorified fullback, but that doesn't mean Tampa will try to trade him as the deadline nears at the end of October. The 24-year-old has been a huge disappointment to fantasy owners, catching just 13 passes (18 targets) for 176 scoreless yards. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have been dominating the aerial targets, while tight end Cameron Brate has also vultured a few touchdowns. Until something changes, Howard will be a touchdown-dependent TE2 in fantasy. Maybe Tampa will look to get him more involved coming out of their Week 7 bye.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (thumb) said that he's back to working with a regulation-sized football in his rehab. "I have a really kind of disciplined plan for what I need to do for strength and flexibility and then my throwing and all that stuff. So really starting to get back into it, doing football stuff, and just trying to get back as quick as I can," Brees said. When he returns to action, Brees said he'll be wearing a splint on his thumb "because it does take a while for that ligament to actually heal." The team was initially targeting a potential Week 8 return for Brees, but it's unknown if he'll be able to meet that timetable. Continue to stash the future Hall of Famer in all leagues.
The Oakland Raiders signed tight end Darren Waller to a multi-year extension on Thursday that is expected to pay him around $9 million per season in what amounts to a three-year extension, according to the NFL Network. Waller was scheduled to become a restricted free agent after this season. He served a pair of suspensions while with the Ravens and has gone public in his fight for sobriety, which reached two years this training camp. Waller has caught a team-high 37 passes for 359 yards through five games after entering the year with 18 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns in 22 career games. As a result, he's turned into a must-start, high-end TE1 for fantasy owners in 2019.