By Jerry McDonald, The Oakland Tribune –
OAKLAND, Calif. — On the scoreboard and the stat sheet, it was a convincing end to a six-game preseason losing streak.
The Raiders beat the Detroit Lions, 31-20, on Saturday night at O.co Coliseum in what amounted a coming-out party for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
The Raiders had 513 yards of total offense and 27 first downs, and they held Detroit to 281 yards and a scant 2.7 yards per attempt on the ground. All in all, a satisfying first win for Raiders coach Dennis Allen.
“We talk about creating habits and you’re either creating good habits or bad habits, and today we created a good habit,” Allen said. “It’s a good habit to get into winning.”
Yet there is room for improvement, and it remains to be seen what the Raiders (1-2) will bring to the table when they host the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 10 in their season opener.
Pryor completed 3 of 5 passes for 137 yards and touchdown throws of 39 and 76 yards to rookie Juron Criner. He accounted for 76 yards of a 77-yard drive on two runs, a 59-yard dash down the right sideline and a 17-yard escape act for a touchdown.
For an announced crowd of 41,420 fans, Pryor, operating as the backup with Matt Leinart sidelined by a lacerated finger, was a reason to stand and cheer in the second half.
“I felt real comfortable, because when I was (with the third team) I would get 10 plays in practice,” Pryor said. “That’s not really enough where I can get the feel of it. It was good to get a few extra reps behind Carson.”
In the first half, the Raiders, who took a 10-6 lead behind Carson Palmer, had no trouble moving the ball but had a lot of trouble finishing drives.
Palmer was 17 of 26 for 181 yards with two interceptions. One was a terrible decision on a screen pass that was intercepted by defensive end Willie Young. The other was a well-thrown ball that bounced out of the arms of wide receiver Eddie McGee.
The Raiders needed to run seven plays starting from the 8-yard line to complete an 86-yard, 12-play drive, getting help from a pass-interference penalty on Erik Coleman. The touchdown came from Darren McFadden on a 1-yard run after a replay reversal.
“I’d like for us to get in earlier than we did,” Palmer said. “I’d like to not have to make the decision whether we’re kicking a field goal or going for it.”
The Raiders’ first-team defense continues to look like a considerable upgrade over anything the fan base has seen in recent years, although things got somewhat easier when Lions quarterback Matt Stafford left in the second quarter in favor of Shaun Hill after an injury to his non-throwing hand.
Twice in the second quarter Oakland was backed up in short-field situations, with Detroit (1-2) opening consecutive possessions at the Raiders’ 21 and the 17. The first came on an 80-yard kickoff return by Stephfon Green after McFadden’s touchdown, the second on Palmer’s ill-advised screen pass.
All the Lions got was a 30-yard field goal from Jason Hanson. The other possession ended in a goal-line stand with Philip Wheeler breaking up a pass intended for Calvin Johnson.
Johnson, who burned the Raiders for 214 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions on Dec. 18, had just one catch for seven yards.
“It really only takes one shot for him so you’d better be on your toes as long as he’s in there,” Allen said. “I thought our guys understood the game plan and we were able to take Calvin Johnson away.”
— Special teams was a disaster. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski strained his groin on Green’s 80-yard kickoff return, and the Raiders averaged 11.2 yards on five kickoff returns and 4.0 yards on three punt returns.
— Defensive tackle Jamie Cumbie had a sack and three pass deflections of Lions No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore, the last of which was intercepted by Christo Bilukidi.
“Sometimes you don’t get the rush you want, but if you finish with your hands up, things will happen,” Cumbie said. “Kellen Moore is a shorter quarterback, so I kind of benefited from that.”
— Criner’s two touchdown receptions came on a leaping catch over Alphonso Smith (who was called for interference) and a fingertip grab on a backside pattern with Pryor rolling to his right.
“You have to have that instinct when the ball is in the air it belongs to me, and it’s all about making the 50-50 plays,” Criner said.
— Running back Taiwan Jones had 50 yards on 10 carries in his first action of the preseason.
“I felt pretty good,” Jones said. “I feel that once I get my cleats together, I’ll really be able to hit some gears.”
— Players who didn’t suit up included defensive tackle Richard Seymour (rest), wide receiver Jacoby Ford (foot) and wide receiver Denarius Moore (hamstring).