INDIANAPOLIS -- Running superbly, throwing better than he ever has and giving the Raiders a fourth-quarter lead, Terrelle Pryor exasperated a strong opponent, quieted a raucous dome and gained national respect.
Yet Pryor's most significant accomplishment Sunday was delivering hope.
Even in defeat, his performance brought a sliver of hope to a demoralized fan base, to a head coach whose job is at stake and to a franchise that has spent the past decade mocking itself.
Oakland's 21-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium was unremarkable aside from the visual evidence of Pryor's growth as a quarterback. He was a desperate option last season, and uncertainty about his future prompted general manager Reggie McKenzie to draft one quarterback and sign another through free agency.
Now, suddenly, Pryor, in his third season, looks like the only quarterback on the roster with a chance to lift the Raiders from the Era of Embarrassment.
It's one game, so there is plenty of time for opponents to study Pryor, look for tendencies and seek ways to disrupt his game. The league is, always will be, about consistency, and few struggle with that more than young passers.
But in the pressurized predicament of making his second career start, in the season opener, on the road, in a dome, against a 2012 playoff team, Pryor exceeded reasonable expectations. His Raiders actually outgained Andrew Luck's Colts 372-274.
It was largely because of Pryor's arm and feet and, yes, decision-making, that the outcome was in doubt until the final seconds, to the shock of 65,412 in attendance. Pryor's 5-yard dart to Denarius Moore with 11:09 left gave Oakland a 17-14 lead that crumbled when Indy responded by marching 80 yards for the winning touchdown.
"We had a chance to win,'' veteran safety Charles Woodson said. "The defense, we dropped the ball.''
Though Pryor's passing stats were decent -- 19 of 29, 217 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions -- his rushing stats (13 carries, a Raiders quarterback record 112 yards) were impressive and, above all, his surprisingly proficient presence was encouraging.
"He provides a spark and has some things he can do and create with his feet,'' coach Dennis Allen said. "That was outstanding. Overall, I was pleased with his performance.
"There's still a lot of things that we got to get cleaned up with him and ... anytime you have a young guy, you're going to have to make some corrections.''
Pryor's glaring mistakes were one late sack and two interceptions, one in the first quarter when he threw late to Rod Streater in the end zone and the other when he heaved a third-and-24 pass inside the final minute that ended Oakland's final comeback attempt.
Pryor's self-evaluation was harsh, dismissing the way he twisted the Indy defense into knots with his scrambling, ignoring his 66 percent completion rate and -- as highly competitive folks tend to do -- zeroing in on his contributions to defeat.
"I did awful,'' he said. "Two interceptions ... could have won the game ... had them on the ropes down there. That's all that matters. That number on the win column is all that matters to me.''
What has to matter to the Raiders, though, is the sight of progress from young players. They haven't had a winning season since 2002, and they're trying to follow a long-term progression after years of shortsighted "plans.''
The Raiders have to be delighted with Pryor's improvement. The offseason work, including a tuneup of his throwing mechanics, has created the possibility of the kind of double-threat quarterback that brings defenders to tears.
"We knew we had a heck of a football player coming here, a talented guy, a great athlete, a guy who could do that,'' Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "But ... he did a great job.''
On a Raiders team with such a thin layer of offensive playmakers, a quarterback with Pryor's attributes represents the best possibility of success.
"Terrelle Pryor is a stud,'' Luck said. "He made some unbelievable plays.''
The cliché is that no team welcomes a moral victory, most of all because the concept is associated with losing the game. The Raiders indeed lost but won something the franchise needs, something Allen needs, something the fan base needs.
In a season when they've been casually dismissed as short on talent and without an NFL-caliber quarterback, Pryor's showing gained them a measure of respect.
Respect in the NFL equals hope, and that was hardly visible before Sunday.
Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders nearly pulled off an upset over the Colts, only to see the QB stumble in the end; game notes and stats. PAGE 6
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