In NFL history there have only been four winless teams; The 1960 Cowboys, the 1976 Buccaneers, the 1982 Colts, and the infamous 2008 Detroit Lions. This team was so bad, they probably couldn’t even win a forfeit. So as the worst team in professional football history, the ’08 Lions get a special spot as the 100th post special. Let the mockery commence!
Before we do anything, I just need to settle the argument over which team was worse: the 1976 Buccaneers or the 2008 Lions. Well, I didn’t know myself, and even though many people will tell you “the Bucs would have been 0-100”, http://www.whatifsports.com provided the answer for me. I know this sounds like a ridiculous product placement speech, but I promise it isn’t. WhatIfSports allows you to simulate a game between two teams of eight sports, one of which is the NFL. The 1976 Buccaneers vs. 2008 Lions game went as follows:
TAM – 9:57 – TD – Morris Owens 6 yd. pass from Spurrier (Green kick) 7-0
TAM – 7:06 – TD – Bob Moore 7 yd. pass from Spurrier (Green kick) 14-0
TAM – 1:42 – FG – Dave Green 45 yards
TAM – 3:17 – FG – Essex Johnson 3 yd. pass from Spurrier (Green kick) 24-0!
DET – 1:07 – TD – Calvin Johnson 6. yd. pass from Orlovsky (Hanson kick) 24-7
DET – 5:02 – TD – Shaun McDonald 10 yd. pass from Orlovsky (Hanson kick) 24-14
DET – 14:45 – TD – Kevin Smith 44 yd. pass from Orlovsky (Hanson kick) 24-21
TAM – 7:56 – TD – Charlie Davis 21 yd. run (Green missed extra point) 30-21
Final: 1976 Buccaners 30, 2008 Lions 21
So there we have it. According to advanced statistics and all of that gubbins, the 2008 Detroit Lions, in the 75th year of the franchise’s existence, would lose to a winless expansion team who set the record for worst point differential in a season and had ridiculous uniforms. The full game stats will be listed at the end of the article, but individual player stats won’t be listed because it would take too long.
The actual 2008 Detroit Lions, not the simulated version, probably couldn’t beat themselves either. In short, the team had a terrible general manager, an incompetent coach, a back-breaking quarterback situation and one of the worst defenses ever. This all led to a horrendous 0-16 trainwreck of a year that has led many to believe that this team in this particular year was the worst ever to play the game of football.
The biggest problem for Detroit’s 0-16 year was general manager Matt Millen, by far. Although he had a successful career as a player, winning four Super Bowls with the Raiders and 49ers, he never caught on as a broadcaster and then moved on to ruining the Lions’ franchise. Millen was responsible for bonehead draft decisions such as wide receiver Charles Rodgers, who was drafted No.2 overall in 2003 and put up such stunning career numbers as 36 receptions for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns across a career that only spanned three seasons. Then there was Joey Harrington, a terrible quarterback from the beginning who was picked No.3 overall in 2002 ahead of Dwight Freeney, Jeremy Shockey and Ed Reed. Harrington would be out of Detroit after 2005, and has been out of the league since 2008. The biggest problem for the Lions is that they didn’t bring in any personnel people. They were picking blindly without looking at every aspect of a player’s game, and it definitely hurt them in the long run.
Another piece of the futility puzzle was Rod Marinelli, and he was indeed a big one. In fairness, Marinelli accepted the job in Detroit and won 10 games. Trouble was, the 10 wins were scattered over three seasons. After a 3-13 year in 2006 and a 7-9 finish in 2007, Marinelli really hit rock bottom in 2008. He never won another game as a head coach, and when he was fired on December 29th, 2008, I think he was actually relieved.
So, we go from management to the actual players themselves. The quarterbacks were just awful, and the one who started the most games was Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky completed 56.1% of his passes for 1,616 yards, 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 7 uninspiring starts, but he’s best remembered not for any dazzling stats he put up throughout his career, but an eyebrow-raising safety against the Minnesota Vikings. The play might have cost them the game as well, as Detroit lost 12-10.
36-year old Jon Kitna started four games for Detroit in 2008, completing 56.7% of his passes for 758 yards, 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions for a rating of 72.2.
After a few really, really good seasons in the early 2000’s and equally devastating knee injuries in the early 2000’s, Daunte Culpepper was shipped around the league to quarterback-needy teams like Miami, and in 2008, the Detroit Lions. Culpepper started five games, completing 52.2% of his passes for 786 yards, 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His rating was the worst on the team for starting quarterbacks with 63.9.
Oh, right, everyone knows Drew Stanton. He’s the guy who played one or two pretty good games for the Cardinals this seasons and then played badly…then got hurt. He played for the Lions in 2008, finishing as the only guy on the team with a positive TD-INT ratio (1-0) despite not starting a game or completing even 10 passes.
In all, the passing game netted only 3,299 yards, 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The three starting quarterbacks (Orlovsky, Kitna and Culpepper) were sacked 45 times. There was an interception thrown on 3.7% of all throws, and the team only passed for 206.2 yards-per-game.
In terms of a running game, Kevin Smith was actually not bad. Smith ran the ball 238 times for 976 yards and 8 touchdowns, snagging a nice 4.1 yards-per-carry average. After Smith, however, there’s a big drop-off in the running game. Rudi Johnson was likely sent over in the “Bengals Has-Beens” package along with Jon Kitna, as the former ran the ball only 76 times for 237 yards and a touchdown, 3.1 yards-per-carry.
Then there’s Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who ran the ball 3 times for -1 yard. The running game supplied 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns and a pathetic 3.8 yards-per-carry average as a team.
The offense wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t awful and a team could win with it if it had a half-decent defense. Maybe. The Lions scored 268 points all year, 16.8 per-game. They averaged 268.2 (!) yards-per-game and 4.7 yards-per-play.
Nothing good can be said about the defense. Absolutely nothing whatsoever. The unit gave up 404.3 yards-per-game, 6.4 yards-per-play, 25 passing touchdowns, 31 rushing touchdowns, and 517 points, 32.3 per game, which makes it the third-highest total in NFL history. It is only topped by the 1966 Giants (35.79 given up per game) and the 1981 Colts (33.31 per game). The defense also intercepted only 4 passes all season. This led to a turnover differential of -9.
I can understand if you have a quarterback problem, you won’t win many games, but…0 games? Then there’s the offensive defense, and it all makes sense to you. This was a team with no talent, terrible leadership, and a myriad of draft busts surrounding the team. Ford Field was often empty, and those who showed up did so with bag heads, “0-16, yes we can!” t-shirts and cardboard signs with “FIRE MILLEN” written on them in Sharpie.
There were many low points of the season, whether it be a 34-21 toasting to the Atlanta Falcons-a team led by a rookie Matt Ryan and Mike Smith, a 31-13 pounding to the 49ers, who were coached by Mike Martz (whom they had cut) and quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan (whom they had also cut). However, if I had to pick one point of the season where Detroit became a national joke, it would be Week 13. Thanksgiving Day. The one day the people of Detroit know their team will be on national television. Back then, the Titans weren’t a complete barrel fire. They were a good team led by Chris Johnson, who was in CJ2K form in 2008. The Lions went on to the field in their throwback uniforms, and Tennessee just beat the crap out of them. Chris Johnson had 16 carries for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Titans racked up 456 total offensive yards. When the smoke cleared, the Lions had lost 47-10 in front of their own crowd on Thanksgiving, an embarrassment that sent a message to the entire country: this team isn’t going to win a game.
It got to the point were people in Detroit were ashamed of the Lions, and because of that, William Clay Ford Sr. made changes at the end of 2008. Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t fire Matt Millen twice (he did that in Week 4), so he went out and hired Martin Mayhew as general manager and Jim Schwartz as head coach. Martin Mayhew is still their GM, a guy who was responsible for the drafting of Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh as well as bringing Reggie Bush into the organization. Although Jim Schwartz was fired after a Dolphin-like 6-3 to 7-9 collapse in 2013, he’s doing a magnificent job right now running the Buffalo Bills’ defense.
The Lions are 10-4 right now and in 1st place in the NFC North after Green Bay stumbled a bit, and although they look poised for the playoffs, I think they’ll be in and out like a shot due to Matthew Stafford’s erratic play and the offense sometimes taking a day off. From 2008-2009, the Lions only won 2 games, but there’s no chance they’ll ever return to those depths anytime soon.
Note: The “Worst Teams of All Time” bracket will start soon, so go read up on the Top 10 2-14 teams post, as many of those teams are included. Votes will be taken from the comments, but if there is a lack of votes or an unusual tie, WhatIfSports.com will be used to decide the tiebreaker between two teams. The NCAA Basketball “March Madness” bracket structure will be used. Remember: vote for the team you think is worse, not better!
1976 Buccaneers vs. 2008 Lions team statistics
Tampa Bay – 23
Detroit – 16
Rushing first downs
Tampa Bay – 11
Detroit – 2
Passing first downs
Tampa Bay – 11
Detroit – 13
First down by penalty
Tampa Bay – 1
Detroit – 1
3rd down efficiency
Tampa Bay – 4 for 11
Detroit – 8 for 16
4th down efficiency
Tampa Bay – 0 for 0
Detroit – 0 for 1
Tampa Bay – 42 carries for 219 yards and a touchdown, 5.2 yards-per-carry
Detroit – 31 carries for 81 yards, 2.6 yards-per-carry
Tampa Bay – 14/21/176/3/1
Detroit – 32/17/213/3/1
Tampa Bay – 1/6
Detroit – 2/15
Tampa Bay – 0/0
Detroit – 1/1
Tampa Bay – 5/37.0
Detroit – 6/43.3
Tampa Bay – 8/50
Detroit – 5/40
Time of Possession
Tampa Bay – 33:25