OAKLAND It's a tossup as to whether Terrelle Pryor or Philip Rivers has improved the most since they met on Dec. 30 of last season.
Pryor, in his first NFL start, displayed enough leadership ability to go with raw athletic skill to merit a closer look in the offseason and training camp. Playing in a steady rain, he threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in a 24-21 loss to the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
Rivers was 13 of 17 for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Chargers finished a disappointing 7-9 season on an up note.
Pryor is a different quarterback than the one was 13 of 28 for 150 yards in his debut. The big surprise is that at age 31, so is Rivers, who is playing the best football of his life after throwing 35 interceptions in two seasons.
The two quarterbacks take a late-night center stage when the Raiders (1-3) host the Chargers (2-2) at 8:35 p.m. tonight.
The Raiders get Pryor back after he missed a 24-14 loss to the Washington Redskins while recovering from a concussion. He will do so with no restrictions.
"If you start trying to limit the things that he does, I think you decrease his effectiveness," coach Dennis Allen said. "You have to let him be the quarterback that he is and let him make plays."
That means Pryor is free to run either on designed plays or creative scrambles, while at the same time exhibiting a modicum of common sense.
"Obviously if there's three guys coming down on me, I don't want to challenge all three guys, so get down," Pryor said. "Just be myself and play football. That's how I have to play."
While Pryor's ability to run sets him apart, the Raiders first got a glimpse of his ability to bring a spark to the offense in the San Diego game last season. Pryor got the Raiders in and out of the huddle and at one point yanked teammate Mike Goodson out of a scuffle to avoid a penalty.
"You find out those things when you put them on the field and let them play," Allen said. "I think he brings a level of excitement and a level of confidence to our team."
Through four games, Rivers has completed 73.9 percent of his passes (105 for 142) for 1,199 yards, 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions while playing in an offense that is a collaboration from what coach Mike McCoy ran in Denver with Peyton Manning and what offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt used in Arizona.
The result has been fewer gambles and more safe, rhythm throws than the Raiders are accustomed to seeing from Rivers which comes as bad news considering they don't have an interception through four games.
Oakland linebacker Kevin Burnett, a former teammate of Rivers' in San Diego, said the Raiders need to make Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket.
"You have to get around him, make him move his feet and force errant throws," Burnett said. "You have to force him into making errors. He doesn't make too many unforced errors."