Ron Cook: Raiders' Pryor is as talented as ever



OAKLAND, Calif -- Somewhere, a bunch of kids -- grown men now -- from Greensburg Central Catholic High School and Mount Pleasant and Yough and even powerhouse Aliquippa are feeling just a little better about themselves this morning. Terrelle Pryor used to torture them by running through, by and away from their defense as a quarterback at Jeannette High School, the most ballyhooed recruit in Western Pennsylvania history. Now, he's a starter in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders. Sunday, he wasn't doing his magic against overmatched boys. He was doing it against talented men, millionaires with names such as Polamalu, Woodley and Timmons in a 21-18 win that went a long way toward ending the Steelers' relevance for the 2013 season.

"He might be more elusive than Michael Vick," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu marveled afterward. "We didn't see anyone catch him on tape."

The Steelers certainly didn't catch Pryor on the lawn of O.co Coliseum. On the first play of the game, after the Steelers won the coin toss and elected to start the game on defense, he ran for a 93-yard touchdown. It wasn't just the longest run in Raiders history. It was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history, bettering the 80-yard touchdown run by the Steelers' Kordell Stewart against the Carolina Panthers in 1996.

"We can't start like that," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "They put our defense out there for a reason. They wanted us to get a stop against an offense we can control. And we can control that offense. We just didn't get it done on that play."

Pryor faked a handoff to running back Darren McFadden to the left side behind pulling right guard Mike Brisiel before keeping the ball and taking off over right tackle. No one was there to stop him. Just about everybody on the Steelers defense, including Clark and left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, was sucked toward McFadden. Polamalu had a chance to make the tackle but was blocked by wide receiver Rod Streater. That's when Pryor knew he was gone.

"I'm going straight up and going to the house," he said.

Polamalu acknowledged he was beaten by Streater on the play. Clark took blame for not being "more patient" in the middle of the field.

"There was a lot of talk all week about turning McFadden back and everybody was revved up for that," Clark said. "But even if you're excited about stopping McFadden, you have to understand the beast that's playing quarterback. You have to understand what he brings to the game. He's a legit 4.4 [seconds for the 40-yard dash]. He just looks slow because he's so big, but he was moving."

It took Pryor 14 seconds to cover the 93 yards. "That's pretty fast," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said.

Allen said the coaching staff made the decision Saturday morning to call that particular read-option on the first play.

"We wanted to give Terrelle a chance to get in the flow of the game and give him some easy plays to start the game. He did a great job of making the right read and, when you execute the play and you read it out properly, you have a chance to get explosive plays."

This one certainly blew up in the Steelers' faces. They never did dig out of that early 7-0 hole, which quickly became a 14-0 deficit and then a 21-3 deficit. Now, the team finds itself in an even deeper, darker hole with a 2-5 record.

It's a long way back to relevancy.

"I wouldn't say we were demoralized," Clark said of Pryor's run. "To be demoralized is to be defeated. If you watched the rest of the game, I think you saw we weren't defeated. But it was unsettling. It was unnerving. We can't start that way."

The Raiders scored two more first-half touchdowns, the first on a short field after Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko failed to catch a snap cleanly and had his punt partially blocked, the second on an 11-play, 72-yard drive late in the second quarter. It would have been nice if the defense had held the Raiders to a couple of field goals there, but, hey the other guys get paid, too.

The Steelers did force two interceptions, by Polamalu and cornerback Cortez Allen. Defensive end Brett Keisel also recovered a fumble by wide receiver Jacoby Ford at the Raiders 11 early in the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown. If there was anything disappointing about the defense's play -- other than that killer first play -- it's that it got just two sacks of Pryor, who was sacked nine times by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Raiders' previous game.

But the only thing the Steelers defensive players wanted to talk about afterward was Pryor's record-setting run. Their defense is designed by coordinator Dick LeBeau not to give up big plays. Allowing a 93-yard touchdown on the first play is hard to overcome.

"We didn't overcome it," Polamalu said, sadly.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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