OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Lovie Smith has heard all about the Super Bowl loser jinx that supposedly sends the NFL's runner-up spiraling the next season.
He was even an assistant in St. Louis in 2002 when the Rams became the second of five straight Super Bowl losers to fail to make the postseason the following year. After a 3-5 start, Smith's Chicago Bears are on the way to joining that group, but that's not enough to prove to the coach that there's any logic to the theory.
ing off of the Super Bowl.''
The only Super Bowl runner-up to make the playoffs this decade was Seattle last year, even though the Seahawks went from 13 wins in 2005 to nine the next season.
If the Bears (3-5) don't turn things around soon, beginning with Sunday's visit to Oakland (2-6), they could join the New York Giants, St. Louis, the Raiders, Carolina and Philadelphia as runners-up that didn't make the playoffs the following season.
Those teams dropped from an average of 12 wins to six wins in one season. The Bears are headed in the same direction after winning 13 games a year ago.
``Last year's over,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said. ``This is a different team, a different season, that's all there is to it. We got to play good with this team and try and get it fixed. ... I don't think we've kind of let down or anything. We just haven't played as well, that's all there is to it. We're not satisfied with getting there and not winning.''
To get back to the playoffs, the Bears will have to overcome the myriad of problems they had in the first half of the season. They have been unable to protect the ball with either Rex Grossman or Brian Griese at quarterback, committing the third-most turnovers in the NFL with 23.
One reason there's been so much pressure on the passing game is Cedric Benson has struggled as the feature back after the offseason trade of Thomas Jones. Benson is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry, the lowest average among the 38 backs with at least 75 rushes.
If Benson is going to improve that average, this appears to be the week to do it. Ron Dayne had the lowest average per carry at 2.9 before gaining 122 yards last week against the Raiders. Oakland is giving up a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry, and has allowed a 100-yard rusher for five straight games.
``I expect every team that plays us to try to come out and run the ball from here on out,'' Oakland linebacker Thomas Howard said. ``Just come out and try to establish the running game until those running numbers come down. They're probably going to have in their game play that they want to run the ball 30, 40 times. That's just what I expect.''
No team's Super Bowl loser jinx has lasted as long as Oakland's. After coming within a game of a championship in the 2002 season, the Raiders matched the biggest collapse by a Super Bowl team the following year with a 4-12 record.
Things have only gotten worse from there for the Raiders, who are the only team ever to miss the playoffs for four straight seasons following a Super Bowl trip. Oakland has been the NFL's worst team since that loss to Tampa Bay in January 2003 with a 17-55 record, leading to the firings of Bill Callahan, Norv Turner and Art Shell as coach.
Lane Kiffin has come in trying to change the culture of losing around the Raiders and has had success making the team much more competitive than a year ago.
``The standings are not my concern right now,'' Kiffin said. ``My concern is us getting better, my concern is us not making the same mistakes we've made so that we can win these games, so that we can quit talking about being close and not finishing and coming back but putting ourselves in a deficit.''
Oakland has lost four straight games since a 2-2 start, but only one of those losses was by more than seven points. Taking that next step to turn the team back into a winner is proving difficult and there's already talk about preparing for next season by putting in top draft pick JaMarcus Russell at quarterback.
The players, however, haven't quite given up on this season.
``I think we have what it takes, but we have to minimize our mistakes,'' running back LaMont Jordan said. ``That's really what it comes down to. I say this, and people really look at me like I'm crazy, but if you see the film that we have, there's no team that has really gone out there and really stopped us. We did good job of stopping ourselves.''

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