Terrelle Pryor shook away the specter of past failures with a win over the Chargers. (Tony Avelar/AP)
To whatever degree Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor had to worry about losing his job as the team's starting quarterback in the event of a trade for Josh Freeman, Pryor proved on Sunday night that the Raiders missed nothing when Freeman signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings. NFL.com's Mike Silver reported on Sunday morning that the Raiders were looking to acquire the recently released ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal-caller, possibly to reunite him with offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who served that same role for the Bucs during Freeman's best NFL seasons.
Had they done so, and even if Freeman had gotten up to speed by gametime Sunday night, it's difficult to imagine him doing any better than Pryor did in the Raiders' 27-17 win over the Chargers. Pryor completed his first 10 passes, throwing for two touchdowns in the first quarter, and finished with 18 completions in 23 attempts for 221 yards, those two scores and no interceptions. That was enough to hold the Raiders in good stead even when the Chargers tried to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter when Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw both of his touchdown passes, because Rivers also threw three picks to a Raiders defense that hadn't had a single interception through its first four games.
Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson returned a Danny Woodhead fumble 25 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to tie Darren Sharper and Rod Woodson for the most defensive touchdowns in NFL history with 13. That play put the Raiders up, 24-3, but the Chargers would not give up.
Rivers, who had been enjoying outstanding performances through his first four games of the 2013 season, struggled early, but threw touchdown passes to Woodhead and Keenan Allen to make it a closer game. But in the end, and though he threw for 411 yards on the night, Rivers could not overcome the picks he threw to Woodson, Usama Young and D.J. Hayden. Both Rivers and Pryor were playing behind offensive lines ravaged by injuries and throwing to less-than-impressive receiver corps, but Pryor was the one who seemed in command throughout the evening. Both quarterbacks were also dealing with injuries to their top running backs -- San Diego's Ryan Mathews left the game in the first half with a concussion, and Oakland's Darren McFadden missed the game entirely with a hamstring strain.
Pryor made timely throws from the pocket, extended plays by rolling out effectively, ran through San Diego's defense when required, and avoided any killer mistakes. It was a concise, efficient, definitive performance that belied Pryor's relative inexperience -- though this is his third NFL season, Sunday's game marked his fifth NFL start.
"That's what the kid brings to us," Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said after the game. "Terrelle brings that ability when things aren't right, when things break down, he brings that ability to make plays."
No matter how much they might have been looking elsewhere, Pryor proved once again that the Raiders already have a bright future as the game's most important position.