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Lowell Cohn: Raiders' Terrelle Pryor offers lone ray of hope for better times


OAKLAND — The Oakland Raiders' story is so tired. And tiresome. And the season hasn't even started.

Or maybe it's the same old story.

This is a football team that can't play football in the usual sense. The Raiders played their third exhibition game on Friday night — the third is the only one that matters at all — and they scored three points in the first half when their good players were on the field. Admittedly, the phrase "good players" as a description of Raiders is farfetched and unfair to the English language, not to mention an affront to clear thinking everywhere.

The Raiders gave up 27 points to the Chicago Bears in the first half, and the only reason the Raiders scored their three humble, measly points is because Sebastian Janikowski, who may be superhuman, nailed a 58-yard field goal off the infield dirt with time running out.

"We can't continue to spot teams like that in the first half," Coach Dennis Allen said afterward. There was a certain amount of wisdom in his words.

You may be a Raiders' fan. You may think the introductory judgments in this column are harsh.

You may tell yourself some of the Raiders' elite players did not play in the first half — Darren McFadden, Tyvon Branch, Marcel Reese, etc.

Come on. Don't make that excuse.

The Raiders' elite players are not THAT elite. The Raiders are a two-win team, maybe they will win three. At best.

The Raiders were so awful on Friday their fans booed them in the first quarter. Who boos anyone at an exhibition game? The Raiders continually break new ground.

The Raiders' starting defense couldn't stop the Bears' starting offense — and the Bears are nothing special. The Bears marched through the Raiders like a Mack Truck driving through a wedge of cream cheese.

The Raiders' offense was, well, dull. Mostly, the Raiders ran Rashad Jennings. They obviously are resting McFadden so he doesn't get hurt in the preseason. There's time enough to get him hurt when the games count.

The Raiders passed mostly when they needed to make something like 1,000 yards, when everyone from Richmond to San Leandro knew they had to pass.

If the play calling really is this conservative, the Raiders have a problem. Well, they have a million problems. But this is yet another one.

The Raiders will play from behind most of the upcoming season. If their coaches are as conservative as they seem, the Raiders will stand no chance of catching up. Playing from behind plus conservative coaches is a killer combo.

Here's another killer. Matt Flynn. He is apparently the Raiders' starting quarterback, and the poor guy looks dead on arrival, has no life, no spark. In the first half, his passer rating was 17.4. The number is so low it almost doesn't register. You'd need an electron microscope to see it.

Allen brought in backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor very late in the first half. Had Allen gone into a dream? Did he not notice Flynn's comatose play?

If Allen is serious about winning three games as opposed to two, he would have played Pryor against the Bears' good guys so Pryor could get experience, a novel concept. So he could work against a real defense and actually learn his business. Understand, Pryor runs the pistol offense much of the time, and the blocking schemes are different with the pistol. The whole thing takes practice.

In the third quarter, Pryor hit Rod Streater with a 19-yard pass, hit Streater after Pryor ran around, avoided defenders, brushed them off, showed guts, then threw a perfect pass — the ball looked like it sailed out of a forest through low-hanging branches. Pryor brought the team to life, brought the stadium to life.

It is amazing — disheartening — that the stodgy Raiders don't feature Pryor.

Here's a prediction. If Flynn is the starting quarterback when the season starts — heaven help us — Pryor, who scrambled 25 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter and also threw a 19-yard TD pass, will be the starter by Game 4. He can make plays. He gives an awful team hope on offense. Hope is essential.

Allen has not officially announced Flynn is his starter. He's leaving that open. "I'm not going to make any decision on one game," he said after the game.

But he treats Flynn like the starter, started him Friday night. In spite of his timidity, Allen already has a quarterback controversy on his hands.

It's the only interesting thing the Raiders have to offer.