Look out, Detroit. Company might be on the way.
It’s early to start forecasting 0-16 for anybody, but five franchises reached the quarter point in their season Sunday by falling to 0-4, and the Carolina Panthers had the weekend to stew in their misery at 0-3.
Can an 0-16 season be replicated? Sure, and it very well could happen this year, proof that in a league known for parity, there’s plenty of bad football to go around as well. Four of the 0-4 teams are being led by first-year coaches who are shuffling rosters short on talent while trying to implement their systems. The fifth 0-4 team is the Tennessee Titans, who now trail Indianapolis by four games in the AFC South and might find out sooner than they want if Vince Young can cut it as their quarterback of the future.
Let’s run down the list of the winless:
The hangover from its stunning home loss to Arizona in the divisional round of the playoffs carries on. Sure, injuries have swept through the roster, particularly on defense, but there’s little reason to have confidence in quarterback Jake Delhomme at this point. He’s been a turnover machine.
There’s been turnover at the very top of the organization with owner Jerry Richardson’s two sons abruptly departing at the start of the season. Once again, coach John Fox is on the hot seat.
Why it won’t happen: I’ll give you four reasons. The Panthers host Washington this Sunday coming out of their bye, they have two games remaining with NFC South cellar-dweller Tampa Bay, and they play a struggling Miami team. The Panthers might be headed toward a rebuilding phase, but they’re not record-book bad.
The Browns managed to lose their 10th consecutive game since last season in dramatic fashion when they fell to Cincinnati 23-20 on Sunday. First-year coach Eric Mangini has already gone to the bullpen for backup quarterback Derek Anderson, and the offense showed a little bit of life with rookie wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi taking off with eight receptions for 148 yards in his first start.
Mangini has managed to alienate some of the players on his roster, a difficult way to motivate them to perform when there’s little left to play for but individual goals. The die-hard in Cleveland are fed up, and they should be. The Browns are working with a new front office, and little has been done to change the losing culture.
Why it won’t happen: For starters, the Browns head to Buffalo on Sunday. If you can’t get well against the Bills, who can you get well against? Their schedule also includes Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland, but those AFC West opponents don’t come until late December, so it could be a long way.
Todd Haley was hired because he’s an offensive guru and the Chiefs are miserable on that side of the ball. It makes a difference when you don’t have Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to throw the ball to any more. Haley is getting quality efforts from his players and motivates them well with fear tactics, that’s for sure.
“Change is not fun,” Haley said after a 27-16 loss to the Giants that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would indicate. “We've got to be better in all areas.”
For all the questions there are on offense, starting with the contract given to quarterback Matt Cassel, there are as many on defense. The only offense the Chiefs have kept in check belongs to Oakland, and Kansas City coughed that game up at the end.
The Chiefs are 0-4 for the first time since 1980 and have lost eight in a row and 27 of their past 29.
Why it won’t happen: Haley will challenge a player to a fistfight before the Chiefs inch up on 0-16. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but they’ve got some winnable games on their schedule: Washington, a second meeting with Oakland, Buffalo and Cleveland.
The Rams were within a touchdown of the 49ers beginning the third quarter Sunday in San Francisco before doing a little bit of everything to ensure they would lose, and lose big, 35-0. For starters, the Niners’ first touchdown came on a punt that went off the leg of Quincy Butler. Kyle Boller threw across the middle and was picked off by Patrick Willis, who returned it for a touchdown. A botched reverse handoff to Danny Amendola was also returned for a touchdown. Oh yeah, the Rams also committed 10 penalties for 73 yards.
The loss marked the second time in four games St. Louis has been shut out, and the Rams have scored only 24 points. They’re not going to end any losing streak without generating some more momentum on offense.
“It's hard,” general manager Bill Devaney told Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. “When we took this thing over, we said it was a starting process and that we were going to build from the ground up, and that's what we're doing. But it doesn't make it any easier when you lose. The losing just crushes you. I can say we're getting better, we're getting better, we're getting better, but the fans want to see some results.”
Why it won’t happen: The fact is, if any team is going to run the table, if you can say such a thing en route to 0-16, it might be the Rams. They’ve got some nice young pieces on defense, but the offense is a mess and they’re without their top wide receiver, Laurent Robinson, for the remainder of the season. They’re circling a Nov. 1 date with Detroit at Ford Field right now.
Let’s see. They’ve changed offensive coordinators, swapped out quarterbacks and couldn’t succeed Sunday at Washington despite intercepting Jason Campbell three times.
The Buccaneers are short on playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, a common theme among the winless, but the underreported issue here is a bad defense under first-year coach Raheem Morris. Tampa has switched schemes, and the adjustment on the fly has not gone well. Unless they can beat up on Carolina, the Bucs are going to take their lumps in the NFC South.
Tampa tried to sign defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in free agency and was close to engineering a trade for quarterback Jay Cutler. But it’s been the moves they’ve made that they might regret. The Bucs made tight end Kellen Winslow the highest paid at his position in the league and are getting little in return. Antonio Bryant was franchise tagged because they didn’t have anyone else at the position. Give them credit here, at least they didn’t sign him up long term. Add in some failed high draft picks in recent years, and you have a recipe for a meltdown.
Why it won’t happen: This is not a team the NFL is looking forward to showcasing in England when the Bucs play the Patriots there on Oct. 25. If the Rams have the best chance of reaching 0-16, then the Bucs are right behind them. Josh Johnson did some nice things in his debut at Washington against a pretty good defense, and the Bucs have a decent stable of running backs they can lean on.
There’s no question the Titans’ awful start is the most surprising of all. If you believe there’s life left in their season, then the meeting Sunday with Indianapolis is a must-win. Tennessee was blown out at Jacksonville and turned the ball over three times, giving it 11. The Titans had 17 all last season.
“Being at a loss for words is a good way to put it,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said after the game. “We're obviously not playing good football. This is the fourth week, and the last three I used up my excuses for what's going on.”
The Titans have faced a challenging schedule, and they’ve struggled at Jacksonville in recent years, but there’s no excuse for a home loss to Houston.
Why it won’t happen: Jeff Fisher is too good a coach, and more important, there’s far too much talent on this roster for this skid to go on much longer. Tennessee opened 2006 0-5 and rallied to 8-8, nearly making the playoffs. That might not happen here, but the Titans are not going oh-for.
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