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.
Free-agent TE Eric Tomlinson (Giants) signed an undisclosed deal with the New England Patriots Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay pulled in five catches (nine targets) for 121 yards in the loss to the Packers on Monday night. Johnson continues to be involved heavily, and with at least eight looks from quarterback Matthew Stafford in each game this season, the 25-year-old has established himself as a top fantasy wideout in 2019. The Lions will face a tough Vikings Defense in Week 7, but Golladay should continue to retain his must-start tag moving forward.
Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts in the loss to the Packers on Monday. After accumulating at least 20 carries throughout his last two games, Johnson took a step in the wrong direction, and had he not scored, this performance would have been considered another failure. With just three total touchdowns on the year to go along with a subpar 3.3 yards per carry, Johnson's outlook doesn't look favorable against a tough Vikings Defense in Week 7.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford finished with 265 yards on 18-for-32 passing in the loss to the Packers on Monday. The veteran still played relatively well despite failing to throw a touchdown and had it not been for rookie mistakes from tight end T.J. Hockenson, the story would have been different. With Week 6 in the books, things will get tougher for Stafford against a tough Vikings Defense on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham pulled in just two of his five targets for 17 yards during the Monday night win over the Lions. With Marquez Valdes-Scantling (leg) and Geronimo Allison (concussion, chest) both missing some time in this one, fantasy managers were hoping for an increase in production. That did not happen. If Davante Adams (toe), Allison, or Valdes-Scantling miss more time moving ahead, look for Graham to see a slight uptick in looks from Aaron Rodgers. However, continue to expect the worst and hope for the best from week-to-week.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling finished with two catches for 48 yards in the win over the Lions on Monday night. Valdes-Scantling would briefly exit this one after injuring his leg but would return to haul in a 46-yard catch to offset his lack of fantasy progress up to that point. With Davante Adams (toe) and Geronimo Allison (concussion, chest) potentially not playing against the Raiders on Sunday, the 25-year-old could see an increased role in Week 7.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (concussion, chest) hauled in three catches (seven targets) for 40 yards in the win over the Lions on Monday night. After leading the way in looks from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 25-year-old would exit the game prematurely in the second half. He did not return. With Allison's status for Sunday's showdown with the Raiders in question, fantasy managers will want to monitor his progress throughout the week.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams ran for 104 yards on 14 carries to go along with four catches in the win over the Lions. After Aaron Jones fumbled and dropped a wide-open pass from Aaron Rodgers that would have led to a score, Williams was inserted and made the most of it. Though the 24-year-old will likely continue as the No. 1 option out of the backfield, Williams may have some value against the Raiders on Sunday. If Davante Adams (toe), Geronimo Allison (concussion, chest), or Marquez Valdes-Scantling (leg) aren't able to suit up in Week 7, look for Jones to get more looks as a receiver, with Williams coming in for relief, especially on rushing downs.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones ran for 47 yards on 11 carries in addition to four receptions for 13 yards in the win over the Lions. It was a much different performance than the four-touchdown outing that Jones had against the Cowboys in Week 5, and while it wasn't a horrible performance, he did fumble and drop a wide-open, 33-yard toss from Aaron Rodgers that would have led to a score. Jamal Williams did get some touches, rushing for 104 yards on 14 carries to go along with a few receptions after Jones hit the sidelines, but expect the 24-year-old to reclaim his role as the No. 1 option against the Raiders in Week 7.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers went 22-for-39 for 283 yards and a touchdown in the narrow win over the Lions on Monday night. Though he did throw an interception, it was an acceptable performance for the signal-caller who was without top receiver Devante Adams (toe), while also dealing with the in-game losses of Marquez Valdes-Scantling (leg) and Geronimo Allison (concussion, chest). Despite the injuries on the offensive end, Rodgers' outlook against the Raiders in Week 7 is still promising.
Green Bay Packers TE Marcedes Lewis ended with two catches for 50 yards on two targets in Week 6 against the Detroit Lions.
Fantasy Spin: Lewis outperformed starter Jimmy Graham, who converted just two of his five targets. Neither is particularly attractive from a fantasy perspective outside of deeper leagues heading into Week 7 against the Oakland Raiders.
Green Bay Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling finished with two catches and 48 yards in Week 6 against the Detroit Lions. He left the game briefly due to an undisclosed injury, but was able to return and finish.
Fantasy Spin: Valdes-Scantling made a highlight-reel catch in the victory, but it was Allen Lazard who actually found the end zone while stepping up for Geronimo Allison, who left injured. MVS might operate as the No. 1 wideout in Week 7 against the Oakland Raiders if Allison and Davante Adams are each sidelined.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams ran 14 times for 104 yards in Week 6 against the Detroit Lions, and he had four grabs for 32 yards and a touchdown. His last run was almost a touchdown, as the Lions were going to allow him to score so they could get the ball back, but he gave himself up at the 1-yard line rather than score.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy owners can't complain too much, as he hit triple digits and had the receiving score, but the selfless play at the end cost them some points. He picked up the slack with Aaron Jones having a forgettable game. The Packers host the Raiders in Week 7.
Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones rushed 11 times for 47 yards with a fumble lost in Week 6 against the Detroit Lions. He also had four grabs for 13 yards on seven targets, but he dropped a sure touchdown downfield, too.
Fantasy Spin: Jones had a giant performance in Dallas last week, but he fell back to Earth in a big way in this one, and Jamaal Williams took advantage and stepped up his play. Jones remains a decent RB2 or flex fantasy option heading into Week 7 against the Oakland Raiders as he looks to bounce back.
Detroit Lions S Tavon Wilson posted five total tackles with a fumble recovery in the Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers on Monday, Oct. 14.
Green Bay Packers LB Preston Smith managed four total stops with 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hit in the Week 6 game against the Detroit Lions.
Green Bay Packers DE Za'Darius Smith posted five total stops with a sack, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit in the Week 6 game against the Detroit Lions.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers completed 24-of-39 passes for 283 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the Week 6 game against the Detroit Lions while running for 10 yards.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers should have had a touchdown to Aaron Jones, who dropped a pass while he was wide open and headed for a score. He was also dealing with a banged up receivers corps, losing Geronimo Allison, while Davante Adams was sidelined for a second straight game. Still, he worked through it and had a nice fantasy line. The Packers will look to keep it going against the Oakland Raiders in Week 7.
Detroit Lions WR Danny Amendola (chest) was able to play in the Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers and he finished with a grab for six yards on his only target.
Fantasy Spin: Amendola was back and healthy enough to play, but he did next to nothing. Fantasy owners, even in deeper PPR leagues, cannot trust him until he starts to show more consistency. The Lions host the Vikings in Week 7.
Detroit Lions WR Marvin Hall had just one catch and one target in the Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers and it was good for a 58-yard reception.
Fantasy Spin: Hall obviously needs more targets and production before he can be relied upon outside of deeper fantasy leagues. The Lions host the Vikings in Week 7.