The shame grew with every defeat. Winless throughout 2008, 0-2 in 2009, the Detroit Lions had cobbled together a 19-game losing streak that tied for second-longest in NFL history.
Then the Redskins paid them a visit. An unhappy visit. One that left the rest of the NFL smirking.
"I was embarrassed," defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. "They hadn't won in like 27 games or something like that, so that was bad."
Not as bad as 27. No one's ever been that bad. But the loss by the Redskins was bad. Plenty bad.
Detroit's 19-14 victory didn't alter the course of history. Not for the Lions, anyway. They would only win one more game though at least for the moment they'd changed the dialogue.
No more talk about them threatening the all-time futility streak of 26 defeats in a row strung together by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Victory had at least become a possibility.
Jim Schwartz, the Lions' second-year head coach, hardly recalls much from last year's initial triumph.
"Ah, it seems like 10 years ago right now," he said by phone earlier this week. "I probably just remember the last drive and it seemed like the clock was going to take forever for that final 40 seconds or whatever it was to wind off. It was fun to get the first win but it didn't change our outlook on what we need to do with the football team and how much work we needed to do."
The Lions, trying to protect their five-point lead, punted the ball back to the Redskins at their own 22-yard line with 1:05 to play. The Redskins drove to the Detroit 36 and a final desperate play that included two laterals fell way short of the end zone. The smallest home crowd to watch a Lions game in 20 years exhaled and exulted, their many humiliations temporarily soothed.
No loss goes down well but this one left wounds to the psyche.
"Any time you lose it's a horrible feeling. Any time it's a perceived win when you look at the schedule, I think it hurts a little bit more knowing a team hasn't had a lot of success and they've had success on you," safety Reed Doughty said.
The Redskins expected to win, even with the doubt growing internally and cracks in their foundation that eventually turned into gaping crevices. Several weeks after the Detroit loss and a pair of other defeats, former head coach Jim Zorn would have his play-calling duties taken away. The continued unraveling of that dismal season brought an overhaul of the front office, the coaching staff and the roster. The loss to Detroit simply foretold all of that. It was not so much overconfidence as perhaps a lack of faith that dimmed their chances against the Lions.
"I wouldn't say we overlooked them," linebacker London Fletcher said. "Where we were last year mentally as a team was totally different. We had a lot going on, to say the least. We're a different football team this year."
There's not much the Lions (1-5) can take from that afternoon and apply to this year's version of the Redskins (4-3).
"Absolutely not," Schwartz said. "Maybe you can look at a couple of individual battles. Two different offensive tackles, different guard, different quarterback, different receiver. They have a lot of different personnel and a completely different scheme on offense and a completely different scheme on defense so there's really not a lot you take from last year's game."
Just go back to the final play. Jason Campbell threw it to Santana Moss, Moss lateraled to Antwaan Randle El and El lateraled to Ladell Betts. Only Moss remains with new-look Redskins.
If that victory didn't exactly launch the Lions into the stratosphere, it still had value.
"Well, it was important to get a win early. This franchise had a monkey on its back from the year before with 16 straight losses. And then we lost our first two last year. That was difficult. To be 0-2 is difficult on any team. To be 0-18 and carrying the banner for the year before, that was a difficult situation. We needed to get that off our resume," Schwartz said.
"We needed to win a game just so we could concentrate on each Sunday, rather than talking about streaks and things like that. So that was an important move for the franchise but it was probably more of a short-term boost, a short-term thing. When it's all said and done, it's our wins going forward. That wasn't a pivotal point for us or anything like that that was going to propel us forward. It was just good getting the winless streak off our back."
Be assured that game still resonates for the Redskins.
"This is the National Football League," Fletcher said. "We always talk about any given Sunday. We know we're not good enough to overlook anybody."
Certainly not with the Lions getting quarterback Matthew Stafford back. He injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder in the opener and, as Schwartz pointed out, "our third-string quarterback has played more than our starter in the first six games."
Stafford returns to the lineup. The Redskins return to Detroit. The Lions are 3-19 under Schwartz but improving and have been in every game. What happened 13 months ago teaches a lesson.
"You know any team can beat anybody," Doughty said. "But when a team hasn't had success and you give them that success, it's not a good feeling."
QUOTABLE:"I don't know too many guys that are 100 percent during the season. But a little duct tape, a little Robitussin, I'm straight." – Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith, discussing his health. ... "When it's all settled, I expect to have the best defense in the league, like always." – New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. The Jets currently rank 12th. ... "As a quarterback you're judged by wins and losses and that's the way it goes." – Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The team is 0-6 but he ranks second in the NFL in passer rating. ... "He was more talented than the rest of us. He had no business on William and Mary's football team." – Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Saints safety Darren Sharper, his college teammate and long-time friend. The Steelers visit the Saints Sunday night in a matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions.
AROUND THE NFL: The Oakland Raiders lead the NFL in penalties (65). ... The Chicago Bears have not scored a point in the third quarter this season. ... The Redskins, with a plus-8 turnover ratio, are tied for second in the NFL. ... Eight of the top 10 rated passers in the NFL play in the AFC. The only two NFC quarterbacks on the list are Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys and Romo will miss six to eight weeks with a fractured collarbone. ... Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White leads the league in both receptions (54) and yards (747). ... The Redskins' Brandon Banks is tied for third in the NFL in punt return average (14.7). Three of the top six and four of the top 10 – Dallas' Dez Bryant, Banks, the Seattle Seahawks' Golden Tate and Marc Mariani of the Tennessee Titans – are rookies. ... Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks with seven. ... The Cowboys have one rushing touchdown, the same as the Miami Dolphins and the winless Bills. The Bills have eight sacks this season, all by different players. ... The San Francisco 49ers have scored one touchdown in the first quarter this season. ... The Titans have allowed only one rushing touchdown. ... New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw leads the NFL with 708 rushing yards. Despite the Giants' reputation through the years as a running team – think Joe Morris, Rodney Hampton, Tiki Barber – the last Giant to finish atop the NFL's rushing leader board was Eddie Price in 1951.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.