Misery doesn’t always love company.
Shaun Cody, who was a young defensive lineman on the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008, does not want to see the winless Cleveland Browns suffer the same fate.
“I know what they’re going through,” said Cody, a former USC standout who retired from the NFL after the 2012 season. “I don’t want us to be the only ones to go down as the 0-16 team, but I feel for those guys.”
Drew Stanton has the same sympathy for the Browns, who dropped to 0-11 with Sunday’s 24-9 home loss to Pittsburgh. Stanton, now backup quarterback in Arizona, was a second-year player on that Lions team.
“It’s something I don’t wish on my worst enemy,” he said. “When that final second ticked off the clock in Green Bay, we realized we were 0-16 and the worst team to ever suit up.”
Former UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece played for that Lions team and said he could feel the season slipping away.
“It really began to snowball for us,” Nece said. “You could feel the tension and pressure as the season went along. I know right about now it has to feel thick in that Cleveland locker room. Everybody is trying to figure out, ‘Who’s the jinx? How do we break this curse?’ But when you go into a game not believing you’re going to win, you just don’t give yourself a chance.”
The Browns have five games remaining and are unlikely to be favored in any of them — facing the New York Giants and Cincinnati at home, Buffalo on the road, San Diego at home, and Pittsburgh on the road.
“Trust me, this is tough,” Hue Jackson, in his first year as coach of the Browns, told reporters Monday on his weekly conference call. “I am not going to sit here and tell you that it is not. I could not tell you that it is not. I have never encountered this, but at the same time, I know what I signed up for. I truly believe I am just the man for the job.”
Browns quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Josh McCown were sacked a combined eight times Sunday by a Steelers defense that had 13 coming into the game. Kessler suffered his second concussion in five games.
Receiver Terrelle Pryor was fuming that the team allowed its quarterbacks to be hit so much.
“It’s bullcrap,” he told reporters. “We can’t keep doing this, and we can’t keep getting our guys hit. It’s as simple as that.”
So when will the win happen, if ever? Of the Browns’ final five opponents, the 3-6-1 Bengals have the worst record and have lost two in a row. But Cincinnati is also 9-3 in its last dozen games against Cleveland, and the Bengals have scored 31, 37, 31 and 30 points in their last four Battles of Ohio.
The best chance for the Browns to stave off 0-16 could be the Christmas Eve game against the Chargers, who are 4-6 overall and 1-4 on the road.
Of course, virtually anything can happen in the unpredictable NFL, even the Browns knocking off the 7-3 Giants, who have won five in a row.
The Lions players who lived through that miserable season praised the way then-coach Rod Marinelli kept the team as focused as he could, even as the loss pile went from a mound to a mountain.
“Everything that could have gone wrong for that team, did,” Stanton said. “We never got a single bounce go our way for 16 straight games. Especially being a guy from Detroit, and knowing how much it means to the fans, how much it means to that city…
“It probably wasn’t until the last month of the season that we really started addressing the elephant in the room. We were like, ‘OK, we need to find a way to win a football game so we don’t go 0-16.’ To Rod’s testament, he stood by that. Each week, he was preparing to try to win that football game.”
Incidentally, Marinelli landed on his feet. He’s the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, currently riding an NFL-best nine-game winning streak. But all his efforts couldn’t produce a victory in 2008.
“The hardest thing was just going to work every day and trying to look people in the eye and pick your head up,” Cody said. “You just wanted to walk around with your head down, get in and get out.”
The Lions went 2-14 the following season under new coach Jim Schwartz and with No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford at quarterback. One of those 14 losses came to 0-7 St. Louis, and Stanton was actually relieved for the Rams that they won that game.
“I remember talking to a Rams player after that game, a guy I had played with at Michigan State,” Stanton recalled. “I said, ‘I’m so happy that you guys won a football game.’ I usually am extremely frustrated and want to win, and I’m competitive, but for them to go through those pressures and have to talk about that…”
“I think it made me appreciate winning in the NFL more,” he said. “After wins in Houston, I really tried to enjoy those moments. Unless you go through something like I went through with the Lions, you don’t really know what it means to enjoy winning in the NFL.”
And there’s another reason he’d like to see the Browns win a game.
“I wouldn’t pull for them to lose,” he said. “Because then, what am I going to talk about? There wouldn’t be something special about us anymore.”