Monday night’s game in Denver against the Broncos was a test.
After a close loss to the improving Colts and a win over the hapless Jaguars, the nationally televised game against the red-hot Broncos would give the NFL a better idea where the Raiders are in 2013.
The verdict: Oakland is still not in the same ballpark as elite teams such as the Broncos, but probably much better than anyone thought in August.
Monday night’s 37-21 loss to the now 3-0 Broncos was a decision that never really was in doubt.
Denver went up 10-0 in the first quarter and led 27-7 at the half behind quarterback Peyton Manning’s three touchdown passes and 21-of-24 completions for 264 yards.
Just as Manning had torched the Ravens and Giants this season, he took apart the Raiders secondary. For the night he completed 32-of-37 throws (the most accurate game of his career for 20 or more passes) for 374 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. The Broncos’ passing game – now aided by a three-headed, deep running back corps of Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball – appears almost impossible to stop. Manning now has a corps of excellent wide receivers capable of shredding almost any secondary in the league, and Oakland's was outmatched.
Through three games, the Broncos have scored 127 points, the second most in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And Manning’s 12 TD throws are a record over the first three games of a season, breaking the mark set by Tom Brady in 2011.
Yet in losing at Denver Monday night, the 1-2 Raiders showed they have some weapons and some young players who may be able to help the team to a win or two more than their four in 2012. And at the forefront is quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
In his first NFL start for the Raiders in prime time, Pryor showed the mobility and improved passing skills that make him look more and more like a legitimate pro quarterback.
With Pryor, the Raiders can be dangerous. And against a team less skilled than Denver, the Raiders defense shouldn’t be as overwhelmed, as it showed against Indianapolis and Jacksonville and give the offense a chance.
Pryor completed 19-of-28 passes for 281 yards and a TD without an interception, and ran four times for 36 yards, including a 23-yard gain. He hooked up with Denarius Moore six times for 124 yards, 73 of those coming on a second-quarter TD strike.
And, Pryor did it with an ineffective running game, with the Broncos holding Darren McFadden and Co. to just 49 net yards.
Pryor wasn’t able to complete the game, forced to leave with concussion-like symptoms incurred when he took a hit while throwing late in the game. But it’s possible he could be back by Sunday when the 0-3 Washington Redskins visit O.co Coliseum.
Through three games, Pryor is giving the Raiders a dimension at quarterback they haven’t had in a long, long time. The Raiders still rank in the lower half of the NFL, but they don't appear helpless any more.
Tweeted Bruce Feldman of CBS: “As awesome as Peyton Manning has been tonight, Terrelle Pryor, given the little he’s got around him, has been very impressive.”