Dave Birkett: Why these winless Detroit Lions seem different than 0-16 team from 2008

Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Football

My first full season as an NFL beat writer was in 2008, and it was about at this point in the year when jokes started flying about the Detroit Lions going 0-16.

The Lions lost their fifth game that season to the Minnesota Vikings, when Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back of the end zone while trying to avoid a sack and cemented the Lions as one of the biggest laughingstocks in the league.

My future colleague at the Free Press, Mike Rosenberg, started one of the great satirical columns of all-time not long after that game, "The Road to 0-16," but I'm not sure even he thought we were witnessing history at the time.

This year's Lions are not as bad as that first team I covered, and certainly not the laughingstock of the league, though they have an identical 0-5 record at the same point in the season and are coming off their own only-the-Lions loss in Minnesota.

The 2008 Lions cycled through five different quarterbacks (starting three) and had a roster mostly bereft of NFL talent. They lost Jon Kitna to a back injury early in the season (to be clear, it was a front office decision to shut down Kitna, who could have returned after a few weeks' rest), signed an overweight Daunte Culpepper away from a youth football coaching gig to be his replacement, traded one of their best players to the Dallas Cowboys and took the field with a mostly young roster and an eye on the future.

This year's Lions have a more stable quarterback situation — no matter what you think of Jared Goff — and while their roster is barren in some places and barely serviceable in others, there are redeeming pockets of talent that have kept them largely competitive through five games.


Their offensive line, even without Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow, is above-average. They have a good running game, but have not been in a position to use it in the fourth quarter. And they are full of young, try-hard guys on defense who should get better as the season goes on.

I write all that to say, while there is not a bone in my body right now that believes the Lions will go 0-17, they are one of two winless teams left in the NFL (along with the Jacksonville Jaguars), so we can't quite rule it out.

The Lions play the Cincinnati Bengals this week in another game that will be a challenge to win.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow returned to practice Wednesday after a weekend hospital trip for a throat injury, and assuming he plays, the Lions have little recourse to stop Cincinnati's high-powered passing game.


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