When a football team approaches midseason without a victory, the yoke of being winless gets heavier each week.
San Francisco was carrying that weight a week ago at 0-5, and the sense of relief was evident in the 49ers' postgame comments after beating Oakland 17-9 last Sunday.
The 49ers, along with the Browns, Cowboys and Lions, may have won only one game, but the gap between one and none feels like a lot more than a single win.
However, if you are looking for sympathy, the National Football League is not the place to be.
There is no escape when a season heads in the wrong direction. That is true throughout the organization and it doesn't matter if you play, coach, negotiate contracts, sell tickets or work on the grounds crew.
That comes with working in football. Throughout the organization, in times of success, it can be a source of great excitement to share in the community's joy. In times of difficulty, it can be hard to find the right words of encouragement even to help make pleasant conversation. !
Though not as unexpected, that was also the case in the Panthers' inaugural year when Carolina reached 0-5. Then Sam Mills made a game- and season-turning play, returning an interception for a touchdown to help beat the New York Jets. The win propelled the Panthers to a seven-win season, still a record for NFL expansion teams.
Through five games this season, the Panthers still are searching for that altering play.
Certainly the season hasn't gone according to script. The defense has exceeded expectations while the offense has struggled to meet them.
The defense was supposed to be a concern with six new starters, but it is currently ranked 12th in yardage allowed -- not dominant is certainly competitive. The coverage and return units on special teams had become an Achilles' heel, but that is no longer the case with Mike Goodson ranked ninth among kickoff returners.
The offense returned virtually the same group that finished last season strong and was rejoined by Jordan Gross, but the unit has struggled from the start.
Youth can be pointed to as a factor but not the explanation for the slow start. If safety Sherrod Martin returns this week, there will be no rookie starters on defense. With Matt Moore and Steve Smith returning on offense, David Gettis likely will be the only first-year starter on that side of the ball.
Whatever the cause, there is only one cure – winning a football game. Just ask the 49ers.