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‘It was awful’: ’08 Lions know pain of ’16 Browns

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Dan Orlovsky steps out of the back of the end zone for a safety at Minnesota in 2008.

Allen Park – Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson patted the podium with his right hand as his eyes welled up with tears. His team had fallen to the New York Giants, 27-13, dropping the Browns to 0-12 on the season.

“Being 0-12 is probably the hardest thing ever,” Jackson said.

Few can understand Jackson’s pain. Since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only five teams have experienced the hardship of losing the first 12 games. Only one, the 2008 Detroit Lions, finished the year winless.

Cleveland has four games remaining to avoid matching that miserable milestone. This weekend’s home tilt against division foe Cincinnati (4-7-1), which will be without star receiver A.J. Green, might be the best shot. Cleveland will also get a boost from the return of starting quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has been out since Week 1 with a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder.

Across Lake Erie, there’s empathy for the Browns.

There are just two players on the Detroit’s current roster who played for the ’08 squad – long snapper Don Muhlbach and backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky. Muhlbach has never left, while Orlovsky moved on after the infamous campaign, had stops in Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Houston, before returning in 2014.

Terrelle Pryor misses a pass during the Browns' loss to the Giants last Sunday.

And while the adage states misery loves company, these two Lions have no interest in seeing the Browns replicate their feat of futility.

“I just remember it being really tough and I wouldn’t have anyone else to go through it,” Muhlbach said.

Orlovsky, a seven-game starter that season, became the face of Detroit’s winless campaign when he ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety while being chased by Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen. The mistake proved to be the margin of defeat, 12-10.

Strangely enough, Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler did the same thing this year, only during the preseason.

But like Muhlbach, Orlovsky has no interest in seeing Cleveland fall short its final four games.

“I feel bad about it,” Orlovsky said. “It’s a crappy situation. (Browns quarterback) Josh McCown is a good friend of mine, I don’t want him to go through it. You don’t wish that upon anybody, so you hope at some point they can get one (win) under their belts.”

Orlovsky almost experienced 0-16 twice. During the 2011 season Indianapolis, with quarterback MVP Peyton Manning out for the year with a neck injury, Orlovsky took over the starting job with five games remaining in the season.

Don Muhlbach

With a rough stretch of five playoff teams to close out the campaign, Indianapolis fell to 0-13 before Orlovsky managed to steer the team to back-to-back wins over Tennessee and Houston.

“I was really happy he didn’t go through it twice,” Muhlbach said.

The sentiments expressed by the two Lions echo comments from the players off the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 0-14 and lost an NFL record 26 straight games. In interviews with the Detroit News during the Lions’ 2008 season, multiple former Bucs expressed hope the Lions would win a game.

"It's pretty miserable -- and indelible," said Pat Toomay, a defensive end for the team. "So I hope these guys don't do it. I hope they can pick one off. Because they'll be hearing about it for the next 30 years. Every time somebody approaches it, you get the call."

Here we are, eight years removed and Orlovsky and Muhlbach are answering the questions, as Toomay predicted.

Despite their current record, these Browns aren’t as bad as those Lions or those Bucs.

Cleveland has not given up more than 35 points this season and have lost four one-score games, including an overtime defeat in Miami. But if the Browns finish 0-16, no one will care how they got there.

“I wouldn’t wish that on any other football player,” Muhlbach said. “It was awful.”

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