What you need to know: Tony Pashos stared into his vacant locker, physically exhausted and emotionally spent. The right tackle’s movements were slow and deliberate, his mind still focused on a game that got away.
The Raiders played well, far better than expected, in a 21-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Didn’t matter. Not one bit.
“We didn’t work our tails off all week to lose a close game,” Pashos said. “We didn’t come out here to be competitive. We wanted to win and we didn’t. That’s what matters.”
Pashos is right. In large part, not all. In a few weeks, Sunday’s game will be a final score with an “L” next to it. The context will be forgotten and a loss will be exactly that. Nothing more.
Unless, of course, it becomes the start of something better. The game could be launching pad aimed at prosperous Sundays. It could also be an opportunity missed, a rare chance to win during an otherwise disappointing season.
In that regard, the Raiders control their own fate.
“I feel like we played well, but there’s no moral victories in this league,” running back Darren McFadden said. “You have to go out there and win on the scoreboard. We did a lot of good things out there. We made some mistakes that we can come back and correct next week. The key is to keep building.”
If we weren’t grading on a curve, we’d say the Raiders gave one away. They blew a late lead and couldn’t complete a last-second comeback just eight yards from pay dirt.
Yet they were supposed to lose big, never given a chance to compete with a playoff-caliber Colts team. It was a surprise that they were in it until the bitter end.
He’s only been here a week, but Pashos personifies the Raiders plight. Little was expected of a man signed on Monday and thrust into the starting lineup, yet he fought and scrapped and battled and performed admirably despite difficult circumstances.
Again, the NFL doesn’t hand out A’s for effort. That’s understood in the Raiders locker room, where moral victories don’t count. Silver (and black) linings? They were plentiful.
Terrelle Pryor provided a spark. The Raiders found a pass rush. They showed resolve that few outside Raiders HQ knew they had.
“People just assume we’re going to be terrible,” Raiders cornerback Tracy Porter said. “Guess what? We’re not. We’re a good football team composed of a bunch of guys who care. We want to win, and we believe that we have the talent to beat anybody.”
Now they have to prove it. They could’ve beat the Colts and didn’t. That will never change. But they can beat the Jaguars next week and play better than they did Sunday.
“This result wasn’t accepted by anyone,” Pryor said. “I expect everyone on this team to be very critical of themselves. We all need to look inside and find out what we can do better. I hate losing. Period. We need to find ways to win.”
Pryor’s impact: Raiders coach Dennis Allen named Terrelle Pryor as his starting quarterback. Smart choice.
The 24-year old gave his team a fighting chance to win with an inspired performance that fell just short of victory. Pryor had 217 yards passing and franchise-record 112 rushing. He threw a touchdown pass and set up two more scoring drives.
He kept plays alive with his legs and generally made good throws on the run. He gave Raider Nation something to cheer for. He gives the team hope for the present, an assumed the continuation of a dark age.
“There are a lot of people that don’t think much of Terrelle Pryor and don’t think much of this team,” Woodson said. “We made some plays and we showed well. When you get that close, though, you have to finish the job. In the future, we will.”
With Pryor at the helm. The Raiders will live and die with the young, confident quarterback who has become their leader. His teammates have become believers, and draw confidence from his creativity and vast potential.
“He stepped up and put the team on his back,” receiver Denarius Moore said. “You can’t fault him for (his fourth-quarter interception) because there have been times where we messed up and he turned around and made up for our mistakes. He’s there for us. He carried us the whole game.”
Play of the Game: The Raiders defense made several big plays against the Colts, but it’s one they couldn’t stop that cost them a win. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck took off and ran 19 yards for a game-deciding touchdown.
The Raiders defense played well in the second half, yet tensed up on an 11-play, 80-yard fourth-quarter drive that erased a fourth-quarter lead.
“We had a chance to win,” Woodson said. “I think we dropped the ball defensively, allowing them to drive down the field and score points. We gave ourselves a chance to win. We just didn’t pull it out.”
Player of the Game: Pryor all the way. Despite harsh self-criticism, Pryor kept the Raiders competitive and nearly completed a remarkable comeback. Despite two interceptions, he played well. He kept the Raiders alive in a losing cause, but sparked teammates and fans during what many expected to be a lost season.
Unsung Hero: Pashos earned this honor with a workmanlike performance at right tackle. The veteran was signed on Monday and had little time to prepare for his Raiders debut, but still managed to deflect pressure and create space for Pryor while he scrambled.
Pashos might be counted on more than once. If Watson remains out as expected with a knee injury, Pashos will likely stay in the starting lineup.
Looking good: The Raiders pass rush came to life and changed the team’s fortunes after a disappointing start. The Raiders had four sacks, five tackles for losses and eight quarterback hits against the Colts. Creating negative plays kept the Colts in unmanageable downs, a surprising turn after a preseason devoid of sustainable pass rushing.
Coordinator Jason Tarver’s creative blitzes kept the Colts off balance in the second half. Now that teams have tape to learn from, it will be interesting to see how the pass rush fares in the coming weeks.
Slow starts: The Raiders got bum rushed in most of their preseason games, staking double-digit leads shortly after kickoff. The defense did so again against the Colts, giving up 14 unanswered points to start the game. After that, the Raiders outscored the Colts 17-7.
If the Raiders want to be competitive this season, they must reverse that trend.
“It happened but it shouldn’t have, and it’s something we have to correct as a defense,” safety Charles Woodson said. “I thought our offense did a good job with ball control, so we were rested. There was no excuse for staking them 14 points. We have to concentrate on playing good football early in the game. “
Not always good to be King: First-year punter Marquette had an NFL debut he’d like to forget. He shanked his first punt, sent his second into the end zone for a touchback and totaled a 29-yard net average. King took the blame for Sebastian Janikowski’s missed 48-yard field goal. His hold wasn’t clean, and the laces weren’t facing out as kickers prefer.
Holding seems like a minor issue, but it might’ve cost the Raiders a game. Janikowski didn’t miss inside 50 yards last season, so a miss indoors, on turf, was rare. If he converts there, then the Raiders needed a field goal at the end to win it, which they were in prime position to kick.
Injury Concerns: Allen said Sunday that the Raiders came out of the game without serious injury. Concerns linger around offensive lineman Menelik Watson (knee) and David Ausberry (shoulder), who were ruled out of Sunday’s game. It’s uncertain whether either player will return next week, although Ausberry is believed to be closer to full health that Watson.
Quote of the day: “I ran like 5.3 miles today. I am very, very tired.” --Colts pass rusher Robert Mathis on chasing Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor all game long.
Looking ahead: The Raiders face Jacksonville Sunday afternoon in their home opener. If Week 1 results are an indication of Week 2 performance (sometimes yes, sometimes absolutely not) the Raiders should win that game. The Jaguars looked lost in a 28-2 loss to Kansas City.