So, that’s what all the fuss was about, eh? Terrelle Pryor was going to revolutionize the quarterback position and rookie wide receiver Juron Criner was going to build upon an off-the-charts showing during offseason workouts.
On Saturday, for one game, at least, Pryor did things few quarterbacks are capable of doing with his feet, made throws befitting a bonafide NFL quarterback and caused people to stand up and take notice. And Criner made not one but two outstanding plays after being silent the first two games and most of training camp.
It was enough to make people wonder what the future holds for the Raiders, with Pryor at quarterback and Criner one of his go-to receivers.
Yet, we’re wise enough to know that what Pryor and Criner did against the Detroit Lions in a 31-20 victory at the Coliseum will be forgotten before long, certainly once the regular season starts in two weeks or so.
Still, it was a show worth watching … over and over again.
The highlights began when Pryor bolted out of the pocket, found a seam, raced through it untouched and rambled 59 yards to the Lions 14-yard line. Two plays later, Pryor capped the scoring drive with an impressive 17-yard run for a touchdown.
On the next series, Pryor benefitted from an interception being negated by a Lions penalty. He made the most of his second chance by delivering a pass down the right sideline that Criner snared above cornerback Alphonso Smith before falling into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown (It’s worth noting that Criner caught the ball despite being interfered with by Smith on the play).
Two series later, Pryor rolled right, led Criner as he streaked across the middle of field and celebrated as Criner finished off a 76-yard catch-and-run play.
Overall, Pryor completed 3-of-5 passes for 137 yards and 137 yards, good for an impressive 143.8 passer rating. By comparison, starter Carson Palmer completed 17-of-26 for 181 yards, with two interceptions, and a 53.5 passer rating.
“I’m just so happy for him; he works so hard and puts so much time in,” Palmer said. “To have the big plays that he made with his feet and the big throws that he made and the guys step up for him like Juron did; guys have so much confidence in him and I’m just happy for him. Proud of him.”
This was the Pryor that late owner Al Davis envisioned when he surrendered a third round draft pick so that he could select Pryor in the NFL’s supplemental draft a year ago. This was the Criner that coach Dennis Allen witnessed on a regular basis during offseason workouts, when Criner made the difficult look routine.
It remains to be seen whether Pryor and Criner will play much once the regular season starts. However, they went a long way toward showing that they can play well in a game, which goes a long way in coaches’ minds.
If nothing else, it’s a far cry from the inconsistent play by Pryor the first two games. Pryor called his improvement with his comfort managing the game the primary reason for his improved play.
“The first thing that my coach Flip (John DeFilippo, quarterbacks coach) said when I got upstairs was, ‘Man, your huddle presence was 200,000 times better.’ That was the biggest thing that helped me was that I could get out earlier. I could get out and see the defense and break down the possibilities of what the defense could possibly be rather than running up to the huddle and having seven seconds left and I’ve got to snap the ball.”
Pryor was hypercritical of his play against the Dallas Cowboys in a 3-0 loss on Aug. 13. He vowed to play better and be the difference the next time he was in a similar situation.
“I hate losing; that’s just something that carries with me,” Pryor said. “When I play video games, people don’t like playing me in video games because I get mad. I’ll throw and break the controller and go buy another one. That’s just how I am. I’m fiery about that. I hate losing.
“When coaches pick on me and they’re trying to help me out a little bit and they (point out) what I do bad, I hate hearing it. It just drives me crazy and I just go out and work on it by myself until I get it right. I just hate failing.”
No failing grade tonight, only an A+ for Pryor.
As always, Allen was measured in his assessment of Pryor’s performance.
“Terrelle did a nice job,” Allen said. “He came in and threw a couple of nice balls, two for touchdowns, both of them to Criner, so that was good to see. He managed the huddle a lot better in this game, which was really an area of improvement we were looking for out of him. He’s still a work in progress, but I thought he made some strides today.”
— Allen talks about wanting to keep four defensive tackles. At this rate, he might be forced to keep five.
Such is the power of youngsters like Jamie Cumbie and Christo Bilukidi making their presence felt time and again.
“It was good to see Jamie coming back off the injury and play,” Allen said, “so that may be one of those battles that goes right down to the end. Listen, that’s the way we want it. We want competition. We want guys battling, and some of those guys stepped up today.”
On Saturday, Cumbie got his hands in the way of three passes, with the final one setting up a Bilukidi interception.
Cumbie notched two tackles, one sack and the three batted passes, as well as several plays in which he pressured the quarterback. Bilukidi was in on several plays, even if he didn’t get credit for the tackle.
“It’s the kind of game I needed after missing last week and being out some practices,” Cumbie said. “I needed to come out and do something.”
Cumbie just returned from a right foot injury. He and Bilukidi realize that the first roster cuts are Monday and the final one Friday. Time is short to make one final, lasting impression.
“The way to make the team is, stacking practices, showing up on game days, making plays, don’t bust on any assignments,” Bilukidi said. “As a rookie, you don’t want to bust any kind of assignment. You want to show these coaches that you know what to do on the field, show that you’re physical, especially as a defensive lineman.”
— Second-year running back Taiwan Jones played in a game for the first time this season. It’s safe to say that he played well enough to present a strong case for why he should be the primary backup to Darren McFadden.
Jones rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries and caught two passes for 8 yards.
“I was just out there having fun,” Jones said. “When you’re in game mode, you got to be patient with your steps but you just got to cut it loose. That’s what I tried to do.”
It caught Allen’s attention.
“He did some nice things,” Allen said. “He was explosive; he’s obviously really fast. He has a real nice run where he got a little penetration and cut back and was able to get around the defense. That’s one of the things that he gives you is, he does have some real speed, so his ability to get on the edges is good for us.”
— Rookie wide receiver Rod Streater shined for a third straight game. This time, he caught five passes for 56 yards. That gives him 18 catches in three games.
Streater caught only 19 passes for Temple last season, which played a large part of his going undrafted.
“That’s funny, right?” Streater said. “Nineteen catches. It’s a blessing that I’m here and I’ve got an offense that throws me the ball. I just want to continue to make plays and continue to work hard.”
— Shane Lechler punted four times Saturday for a 44.5-yard gross and net average. That marked his first game action this season. He missed considerable practice time, as well as the first two exhibition games, while he recovered from arhtroscopic surgery on his left knee.
— Kicker Sebastian Janikowski suffered a groin injury while attempting to tackle Justin Miller on an 80-yard kick return. Janikowski missed the remainder of the game.
Allen said the Raiders will evaluate Janikowski’s injury and determine the extent. Eddy Carmona replaced Janikowski and kicked well, including a 56-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
— McFadden played quite a bit less than the rest of the first-team offense, though he managed nine carries and two receptions. He also scored Oakland’s first touchdown on a 1-yard burst.
McFadden re-entered the game in that situation, Allen said, because that’s the role he is going to handle during the season.
“When we get down on the goal line, we want to give the ball to our best back and let him punch it in,” Allen said.
— Tight end Brandon Myers returned to action after a shoulder injury and caught five passes for 41 yards. David Ausberry added a 10-yard catch on a play on which he lowered his shoulder and bowled over the tackler.
“Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t perfect, but we did some nice things from the tight end position,” Allen said. “Just looking at it with a naked eye, I was pleased with the tight end position.”