OAKLAND, Calif. -- Terrelle Pryor modeled restraint all afternoon Sunday, playing like a dutiful student of the game against a Jacksonville team certain to topple under the weight of elementary competence. The Raiders' coaches required Pryor to leave most read-option esoterica on the shelf and to hem in the Wagnerian portion of his athletic skills, knowing that doing scales on the xylophone would suffice.
At the end of the 19-9 win, the quarterback wore a badge of the gritty, perfectly suited to a day when he answered the call to be a game manager, his sport's equivalent to a slap-hitting infielder. His back was coated in dust, the sort that can only end up on a player at the Oakland Coliseum player these days, since no other NFL team has to cope with infield cutouts on its field.
Pryor prudently slid on several of his nine carries, rather than pressing on like a typical 24-year-old and stridently pursuing an encore of his 112 yards rushing from the week before. He racked up 50 this time, and a prosaic 126 yards passing on 15 of 24 attempts. Running back Darren McFadden rushed for 129 yards, much of his way cleared by Jacksonville's obvious fear of Pryor in full stride.
The quarterback didn't bust out of the vanilla game plan until the very end of the postgame interview, when someone asked how this ex-Buckeye had felt about Ohio State playing so close by on Saturday, burying Cal in Berkeley.
Pryor said he had watched most of the first half before leaving for the Raiders' team hotel, then he juked careful diplomacy and the pretense that he had departed Ohio State on terms he found palatable. He refused to answer questions in an ongoing NCAA investigation, and the college declared him a pariah, banning him from all contact with the athletic department for five years.
"It was my school, definitely, but they don't really accept me," Pryor said. "I moved on to what I'm doing now."
At that point, the Raiders' public-relations staffer hovering by his locker whistled the interview session dead. Perhaps this was the perfect cutoff time, and the staffer forgot he had skipped over the traditional "one more question" warning beforehand. But the Raiders had previously capped Pryor's commentary on the NCAA sanctions that drove him off campus prematurely. Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar visited with Pryor after the team's preseason trip to Seattle and heard a well-crafted mea culpa with a hint of vinegar in it.
"At the end of the day, I broke a rule, I learned from it, and I now understand that I can't do that type of stuff," he said, throwing in a reference to being "greedy, taking money. I learned quite a bit about not being selfish in those terms."
When the line of questioning veered toward the fairness of NCAA rules, Pryor started to weigh in and then, according to Farrar, looked at a PR rep, got a shake of the head and shut himself down. "I wish I could, man," he is quoted as saying. "I'd have something to tell you."
Someday, he may do it, perhaps when the NCAA breaks it unholy covenant with amateurism, or when he becomes an established NFL starter. Until very recently, wholesale reform of college sports appeared more imminent.
Among the young quarterbacks in the NFL, Pryor hardly ranks as a revelation. His throwing mechanics, edited considerably since he joined the Raiders in 2011, remain flawed. He does not throw as seamlessly on the run as the best mobile quarterbacks do, and his passes tend to float more than the ideal. But his season opener in Indianapolis -- with the 112 rushing yards plus 217 passing -- recast coach Dennis Allen's desperation choice into a grand experiment.
If it works to any degree, Pryor will lay claim to the undisputed "prove everyone wrong/chip on the shoulder/overcome the odds" quarterback crown. Forget Colin Kaepernick's descent into the draft's second round or Russell Wilson's deferral to the third round. They can't hang with Pryor in the grievance department.
Because of the way his college career combusted, he had to enter the supplemental draft, which has yielded only one quarterback of real consequence -- Bernie Kosar. (Steve Young went through a different version of a supplemental draft, intended to bring players from the defunct USFL into the fold.)
When Pryor took the Wonderlic test, a report said he had scored only an abysmal 7 out of a possible 50 points. He tweeted out a correction, saying he took the test twice and ended up with a 22. The NFL ultimately interceded in the drama and allowed the test administrator to confirm that Pryor had scored "significantly higher'' than the reported 7.
The Raiders bid only a third-round pick for him, and many analysts considered the price too steep. A consensus said he should shift to tight end, taking advantage of his size and speed, minimizing his passing deficiencies. And then there was Al Davis, ever an apostate, violently allergic to consensus, and smitten with Pryor. The Raiders' owner died less than two months after taking Pryor, and it would be easy to interpret the choice as a hint of dotage if it didn't fit Davis' lifelong mode of assessing talent.
The NFL, embracing double jeopardy and bad jurisdictional boundaries, made Pryor sit out five games as penance for his NCAA sins. Pryor has said "the suspension really screwed me,'' then immediately walked the comment back to "my mistakes screwed me." He edits his speech frequently. At this week's news conference, when he drifted toward bad grammar, he righted himself smoothly. "Them guys" quickly became "those guys."
After Sunday's game, he inched toward expressing frustration about not being able to throw more, mentioning lack of opportunity, several times then reining himself in. "Sometimes it has to be like that," he said. "I wanted to just keep doing my job."
In the end, he may be as much a striver as a natural athlete. To work on his mechanics, he visited Tom House, the former MLB pitcher who has become something of a multipurpose guru to throwers.
In the offseason this year, even though the Raiders had traded for Matt Flynn and effectively earmarked him as the starter, Pryor trained regularly with receivers Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Rod Streater. As he moved toward the starting job, Pryor would scribble little notes of encouragement and leave them in teammates' lockers.
His high school coach, Ray Reitz, said Pryor has behaved that way since his teen years. He eagerly defends his former protégé against what he sees as false assumptions. Reitz thinks Prior got a bad rap from the moment he canceled a televised news conference about his college choice on national signing day, because he still hadn't figured out what he wanted.
"When he didn't commit, people started saying he was being arrogant," Reitz said.
"The perception was wrong. If you coached Terrelle, you'd know he was a joy to work with. Anything you could come up with to make him better, he was like a sponge. He just soaked it all up."
Reitz can say what Pryor can't in his own defense against the NCAA.
"I don't think the crime fit the punishment," he said. "(Johnny) Manziel signed autographs, and he had to sit out a half against Rice. Gee, isn't that a horrible punishment?"
Reitz believes that Manziel's time in the amateurism stocks was limited primarily by the fact that his Aggies were scheduled to play Alabama the third weekend of the season, and the NCAA wanted its justice done in a way that did not interfere with the big show. Likewise, Pryor and four Buckeye teammates received five-game suspensions for selling off awards and bartering autographs for tattoos in late 2010, all of them deferred until the start of the 2011 season and after Ohio State's Sugar Bowl appearance.
"If what he did was so bad, why did they let him play in the bowl game?'' Reitz asked.
Pryor may continue to find sly routes to a similar end. He does not lack for media savvy, or a desire to state his own case.
"I kind of rate myself on my fakes,'' he said after Sunday's win. "When I go and watch the film tomorrow, I'll see how many guys did I hold on each carry that Darren had. I'll decide from that. Did I do well on the play fakes? I take pride in them helping Darren bust open. We'll find out tomorrow, but I think I did well.''
How long will he last in the job, much less thrive? You'd have to be a fool to guess. If conventional wisdom on Pryor held up, he wouldn't be where he is now. He insists on having the last word.
His comment about Ohio State wasn't a slip. It followed up his midweek reminder about how he was barred from accepting free tickets from the Buckeyes to the game in Berkeley. He made that comment with a smile, in control of the conversation. When the Raiders' PR person pulled the plug on Sunday, the interference seemed fine with him. One had to wonder whether he had gone out of bounds, or the whole thing was a drawn-up play.