Since he arrived in Oakland via trade, Matt Flynn has had the Raiders' starting quarterback position on lockdown. He has been first team in practices and first team in games, and there were no signs he was going to let go of his perch... until now.
The third preseason game is a big one in the eyes of coaches figuring out who will be the starters for their team. The first team typically plays the entire first half and then some. Each team actually cares about the outcome and it means the starters are known to play well into the third quarter to remain competitive.
The problem in this game is the Raiders first team was not competitive. That goes for both sides of the ball. And once the Bears held the Raiders offense to 34 yards and 2 first downs while easily putting up 24 points, they'd seen enough. The Raiders coaches had seen enough too. But only of Matt Flynn.
They removed Flynn from the game early in the second quarter and inserted Terrelle Pryor with the rest of the first team intact the remainder of the first half.
Dennis Allen said after the game that that was the plan all along, but that is not typical in the slightest. Flynn saw the entire first half in week two and typically starters see more time in the third game than they do in the second. The problem was Flynn was not moving the ball downfield so Allen went with Pryor to see if things would improve.
"Obviously it wasn't what I, or we, were looking to do out there," said Flynn. "They have a good defense and if you make mistakes, they take advantage of it. We made too many mistakes and just couldn't really get into a rhythm out there."
Things did improve with Pryor. They came with the Raiders first team against the Bears second team but there was no question things picked up for the Raiders in this game with Pryor back there.
"I think his mobility and he was able to create some plays down the field," said Allen. "Listen, he made some throws down the field too that were impressive throws. What I want to look at is, who gives us the best chance to move the ball down the field and score points. Obviously, I'm not going to look at one night and base any type of decision based off of one night. I'm going to go back and I'm going to look at it and we'll see where we go from here."
He's right not to make any decisions based on one game. But when you consider the way Flynn has struggled to get things going in these past two preseason games and the way Pryor performed in this game, this is the first time the idea of Pryor possibly being considered as a contender for the starting job ,as opposed to a bit of trickery, has seriously entered the discussion.
He vaulted into the discussion with his play in the third quarter in which he led the Raiders to three straight scores. This turned the tables on the Bears who shut out the Raiders through most of the first half while having four straight scores of their own.
In the third quarter, Pryor led the Raiders on two touchdown drives. One came on a short field but there is still something to be said for capitalizing on a turnover and putting the ball in the endzone. The first touchdown he scored was on a 25-yard run and the second on a 19-yard strike to tight end, Nick Kasa.
He finished with 130 yards of offense (93 passing, 37 rushing) and 2 touchdowns. By far his best performance for the Raiders. And it came at the best possible time.
"I just competed," said Pryor. " That's the first thing coach said in today's meeting, that he was looking for guys to compete. Any time competition has come, ever since I was young, I always wanted to compete. To me, it's just what I do. I work hard, and I've been working hard - that's how I expect to play."
Dennis Allen's tone had changed following Friday's game.
""I think obviously we have to look at [the starting quarterback job]." Said Allen. "When you look at it I don't think Matt [Flynn] played well in this game. Obviously, I thought Terrelle [Pryor] came in and gave us a spark. I thought he played well in the game. I think that's something that we have to go and look at it. I'm not going to make any decisions on anything, obviously, tonight. I want to get a chance to go back and look at the tape and see how things went. But it was obvious that Terrelle gave us a little bit of a spark tonight."
That statement is just the right amount of non-committal but it also tells us Pryor's game Friday swung the door wide open for himself, and Flynn's poor play helped push it open from the other side.
This is a ‘not again' moment for Flynn who was signed by the Seahawks last off-season only to see third round rookie Russell Wilson swoop in and take the job from him. Flynn never played a down for the Seahawks. With the faith of Reggie McKenzie who got a firsthand view of Flynn in Packers practice as well as his two fantastic performances in relief of Aaron Rodgers, Flynn has been afforded a long leash to go through growing pains. A solid performance Friday would have gone a long way to proving McKenzie's faith in him correct. At this point he is more likely questioning that faith and Pryor's performance only complicates things further.
The final preseason game for the Raiders might actually hold some rare weight. A game that usually has just backups and roster hopefuls might actually be used as a platform to prove who is worthy of the starting QB position.
Even if Flynn keeps the job, doubt has crept in along with some newfound confidence in Pryor's abilities. With a spark waiting to get his shot, Flynn is no longer a lock to be the starter and a real competition has arisen.