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Browns can take heart in promise of 2008's 0-16 Lions

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Before Mike Furrey took over the football program at Limestone College earlier this year, nearly half of all the victories in the program's history (two of five) had come against an online faith-based school with no campus, accreditation or cemented nickname called The College of Faith.

So it's safe to say that the former Colts, Rams, Lions and Browns receiver appreciates the value of one victory.

"I don't think that football team (The College of Faith) is around anymore," Furrey told me this week.

"But right now, we're sitting at 5-5."

We called Furrey this week because he knows firsthand what it is like to go an entire season without winning a football game. As a member of the 2008 Lions, the last team to register a winless NFL season and the only team in NFL history to go winless throughout an entire 16-game season, he has a unique perspective on the slog of a fruitless campaign -- but also the good that might come out of it.

After the Cleveland Browns lost to the Dallas Cowboys this past weekend, sinking their record to 0-9 with no clearly winnable games on the horizon, conversation of a defeated season heated up thanks to Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey. The 24-year-old guaranteed that the Browns would not reach NFL's rock bottom.

"We're not going to go 0-16," Kirksey told reporters after Sunday's loss. "That's for a fact. We're not doing that. Things are going to get on a roll, and we've just got to keep fighting. That's motivation. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but we're not going winless. We're not."

Asked about Kirksey's comments on Tuesday, Browns coach Hue Jackson agreed. His team gets its next crack at breaking the spell on "Thursday Night Football" this week against the Ravens.

"Somehow we're going to find a way not to be 0-16," he said. "That's not where we want to be. We don't want to be 0-9 right now, to be very honest with you. We're going to fight our tails off, and it starts on Thursday night (against the Ravens) again.

"Our guys come in here every week with the mindset of 'Look, we are going to go back out here, we are going to do it again, we are going to give you everything we have and we are going to go try and change this.' That is what they have been doing."

According to NFL Media research, the Browns have a 5.6 percent chance of finishing the season winless. Since 1978, 18 teams have started out the year 0-9. The 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1), the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) and the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1) also finished their seasons winless. Should the Browns mount their own winless campaign, Furrey said, their season will be as frustrating physically as it is mentally.

"There are really no high or low points, that's the thing," he said. "You were in every game, and I guess that's the high, and it gives you something to build on. The low is that you didn't win it. And that's it."

The season was populated with deep thought. A season after the Colts won five games by a touchdown or less, how could the 2008 Lions lose five by the same margin? Detroit's locker room was packed with talent, including Cliff Avril, Calvin Johnson, Jon Kitna, Kevin Smith, Roy Williams and future NFL power players like Dan Campbell (who would serve as the Miami Dolphins' interim coach in 2015), Rod Marinelli (then the Lions' head coach, now the Cowboys' defensive coordinator) and Joe Barry (then the Lions' defensive coordinator, now the Redskins' defensive coordinator). Why couldn't that team align with the football universe just once over the course of 16 games?

"It was crazy," Furrey said.

After seven straight losses that year, Furrey and a few offensive players met with Marinelli to suggest the Lions go no-huddle, a decision that was radical at the time (the muddle-huddle revolution was still about three years away). It was an attempt at a defibrillator shock typical of football teams entering Stage 1 of grief. The Giants, for example, opted to blast music during Friday practices during an 0-6 start in 2013. The Broncos ditched orange uniforms after going 0-4 in the Super Bowl with them on. Players change headphones, socks, wristbands and cleats.

But what Furrey sees as the universal ailment afflicting such teams always seems to persist.

"The biggest thing that everybody tries to do is another person's job," Furrey said. "They're trying to do more to get that win -- but listen, just do your job. Do your job to the best of your ability. That's something I've taken and tried to instill in my kids.

"By nature, everyone wants to turn into that half-coach half-player where you're trying to help everybody do their job. You can't do both. It's something that I learned from (former Rams coach) Mike Martz. That's kind of what I was doing (in Detroit) and I've learned that very well."

Perhaps we will look back on the Browns like we did the 2008 Lions. There were pillars of a playoff team there, and coaches who would go on to do great things. The same could be said about the 1960 Dallas Cowboys (whose coach, Tom Landry, went on to lead the team to two titles and five Super Bowl appearances) or the 1982 Baltimore Colts (whose general manager, Ernie Accorsi, went on to build the Giants into a Super Bowl contender). There is a win in every team -- it just may take some time to find it.

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