After Terrelle Pryor was ruled out for Sunday’s skirmish with the Houston Texans, Raider Nation was frantic. Oakland’s 0-4 road record made the situation more grim.
Fans can rest a little easier after undrafted rookie Matt McGloin led the Raiders offense to a 28-23 victory, bringing Oakland to 4-6 and a few inches closer to the second AFC wild card.
Houston fell to 2-8 on the season. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen praised McGloin and his defense:
“McGloin played outstanding. … Defensively, we had enough to hang in there at the very end. We had talked about putting the bull’s-eye on our chest and making critical plays at the end of the game.”
McGloin went 18-for-32 with 187 passing yards and three interceptions. He becomes only the third of 17 Raiders quarterbacks since 2003 to win their first start, along with Daunte Culpepper and Bruce Gradkowski. And he did it against the league’s best pass defense.
McGloin is also only the second undrafted rookie quarterback to start a game for the Raiders, the first being Larry Lawrence in 1975.
Oakland was trailing narrowly at halftime by a score of 17-14. McGloin wasn’t good with that, and drove the ball 73 yards on just five plays during the Raiders’ first possession of the second half.
The drive was capped off by a 26-yard strike thrown to tight end Mychal Rivera to give Oakland a 21-17 lead. McGloin said it was his favorite throw of the game:
“I think the ball to Rivera was one of my better ones on the day. He runs great routes and I trust him a lot. I gave him and opportunity for it and I knew he was going to be there.”
What came on the next Raiders’ possession was exhilarating.
Shane Lechler, who punted for Oakland in over 10 seasons, kicked the ball out of the end zone for a touchback. In a basic three receiver set, McGloin handed the ball off to running back Rashad Jennings.
As Jennings broke the plane, evading the linebackers, he found some daylight. Five seconds and 80 yards later, Jennings had put his team up by 11 points, sealing the victory.
Allen had just one word to described Jennings: “outstanding.” Then he added a few more:
“He‘s a workhorse type of back. That‘s the way I envision our running game. … For him to hit that 80-yard run, that was a huge play in the football game.”
It was a lead that was held throughout the second half, but just narrowly. Leading by only five, Oakland punted to the Houston 36-yard line and the Texans moved the ball into the red zone in just four plays.
Running back Ben Tate brought the ball to the two yard line, nearly scoring a touchdown before being stopped by Charles Woodson, who jarred the ball lose.
Tate recovered, though it brought up a third down and one yard to go. One penalty and one near-interception by Usama Young later, the Raiders had the ball and ran out the clock.
Both Allen and McGloin praised the defense, which has been the team’s biggest asset thus far in the season. Allen said:
“The two opportunities they had on fourth down, I thought our guys went and executed and did the things that they had to do. The route that they ran on fourth down is something that we’ve worked a lot on. It’s something that’s beat us in the past and for us to make the adjustment. They tried it twice and we were able to stop it.”
What comes along with the victory is an extension of post-season relevancy. The Raiders are just two wins back from the second wild card seed, with the other being occupied by Denver, another AFC West team.
The Raiders play in a division that is clearly the strongest in the entire conference. Oakland will need to remain hard-nosed and confident in order to keep any hope for January football alive. They get another chance to do just that against the Tennessee Titans next week.
Allen dodged questions regarding who would start if Pryor was healthy and an announcement could come late in the week. With Pryor’s performance of late, Allen could be hard-pressed not to give McGloin another chance.