In pass-happy NFL, still helps to be able to run

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In pass-happy NFL, still helps to be able to run

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) As a wideout, Santana Moss wants Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to throw the ball as much as possible, of course, preferably in his direction.

As a football player hoping to advance in the playoffs, Moss wants the Redskins to do what they've done as well as anyone in the NFL this season: run, run, run.

``That's big to me. Everywhere I've played and been successful, we ran the ball to pass the ball. Nowadays, a lot of teams fling the ball everywhere, and you want to be a part of that as a receiver,'' Moss said. ``But when you really want to win games, you have to have both parts of your offense working, the air and the ground. It's great to see we have that here.''

They do, indeed, thanks in part to the man known as RG3, who set a rookie QB record by running for 815 yards, and to another rookie, Alfred Morris, who finished second in the league with 1,613 yards rushing. Washington averaged an NFL-high 169.3 yards on the ground, and its opponent in the first round of the NFC playoffs Sunday is the Seattle Seahawks, who ranked No. 3 at 161.2, led by Marshawn Lynch.

Clearly, as much as the NFL is a passing league, it still helps to be able to run the ball.

``It doesn't have to be great, but you have to have an effective running game to be able to be successful,'' said two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway, now the Denver Broncos executive VP of football operations. ``The reason I say that is because, if you get leads, you've got to be able to eat clock with it and you've got to be able to keep people honest, especially pass-rushing teams.''

Elway was the quarterback and Terrell Davis was a 2,000-yard running back when the Broncos won the 1999 Super Bowl, the last time the league's leading rusher earned an NFL championship (their coach then was Mike Shanahan, currently with the Redskins). It's only happened three other times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, according to STATS LLC, and always by the same guy: Emmitt Smith, with the Dallas Cowboys in 1993, 1994 and 1996.

A season's leader in yards passing, by the way, never has won a Super Bowl in that span, STATS said.

The top three rushers during this regular season are in the playoffs: Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, Morris and Lynch. Other notable running backs in action this weekend include Arian Foster of the Houston Texans and Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. The top three quarterbacks in yards passing, meanwhile, are done: Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Tony Romo of the Cowboys. Two of the top three in yards receiving also have plenty of time on their hands now: Calvin Johnson of the Lions and Brandon Marshall of the Bears.

Come playoff time, it turns out, good running performances are a better indicator of success than good passing performances.

In playoff games in the Super Bowl era, teams with a 100-yard rusher are a combined 157-37 (a winning percentage of .809), while teams with a 300-yard passer are 57-66 (only .463), according to STATS.

Admittedly, that presents something of a chicken-and-egg scenario: Did teams get a lead and win because they ran the ball well? Or did they gain a lot of yards running because they already were ahead and were trying to run out the clock?

Either way, the Vikings, Seahawks and Redskins are unabashedly putting emphasis on the ground game. Seattle led the NFL by running on 55 percent of its offense's plays, Washington was next at 52.2, and Minnesota fifth at 48.6.

``I definitely want to keep the running backs highlighted. It's started to turn into more of a spread-, quarterback-friendly NFL,'' Peterson said, ``but just keep letting them know that there are going to be running backs that can do this.''

In addition to gaining yardage on its own, a good run game opens up room for play-action fakes to help the passing game.

``Especially in playoff football, it seems like the running game always plays a bigger part. The weather gets bad, it gets windy, and things like that. The ability to run the ball and stop the run is crucial,'' Redskins defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. ``And it's what our team is built on.''

Cofield said that Shanahan's first order of business as he opens planning meetings each Wednesday is to talk about how Washington's defense fared against the run in its previous game and what needs to be done against the run in the next game.

With a struggling second-year quarterback in Christian Ponder, and a transcendent running back in Peterson (whose 2,097 yards were the second-most in NFL history), it makes sense for the Vikings to, as their coach Leslie Frazier put it, ``make no bones about it'' that they're a run-first team.

``We're always confident in our run game. We don't shy away from it, and we know that's the type of team we are,'' Vikings fullback Jerome Felton said. ``I think Coach Frazier built the team like that and we're confident in it. So, yeah, we still think the run is prevalent in this league.''

Shanahan and the man he'll try to outcoach Sunday, Seattle's Pete Carroll, both agree with that sentiment.

And both are aware that their bruising running backs - Carroll called Morris ``a hammer''; Cofield said Lynch ``runs like he's angry at everybody'' - provide a big boost to first-year quarterbacks Griffin and Russell Wilson.

``If you have the proper commitment and you build around it, it's maybe the best way you can count on being consistently successful,'' Carroll said. ``And you know that, as you're bringing up a young quarterback, there's nothing better than to run the football as they grow. ... We always want to run the football - for attitude, and just for the style of play.''

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AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski and AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.

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Connect with Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Timmy Jernigan models game after Warren Sapp whether he likes it or not

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Timmy Jernigan models game after Warren Sapp whether he likes it or not

Apparently, it will take more for Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to impress Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp.

Jernigan has changed his number this year from 97 to 99 in tribute to Sapp, who wore that number. But when the Ravens tweeted about it last night, Sapp replied in objection

“I always grew up watching Warren Sapp,” Jernigan told reporters Thursday after OTA practice (but before Sapp's retort). “I definitely wanted to model my game after him.”

Maybe it’s a rivalry thing for the older player. Sapp went to the University of Miami, while Jernigan went to Florida St.

Whatever the case, Jernigan feels ready to make a major leap in his game. His body looked more chiseled than last year Thursday, the result of weight lifting and running stadium steps in the hot Florida sun at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., Jernigan’s hometown.

“I’ve been doing a lot of stuff that kind of got me here,” Jernigan said. “This offseason I started doing a little bit more power cleans, the Olympic lifts, and getting back to running stadiums and stuff like that when I go home in that 100 degree Florida weather. I like to get out there when it’s hotter than hot so days like this don’t really bother me.”

Jernigan has shown flashes of the big-play ability he had in college, with four sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Ravens, after being a second-round pick in 2014. But for Jernigan to reach another level, he will have to show more consistency, durability, and stamina.

Making the Pro Bowl is one of Jernigan’s goals. But a bigger goal is helping the Ravens return to the playoffs.

“Every day we walk through those doors we’re thinking about, ‘Man, we went 5-11 last year,’’’ Jernigan said. “When I want to take a break, that’s what I think about. It’s not acceptable. The players don’t accept it. The coaches don’t accept it. Nobody in this organization does, so it’s definitely on our mind every day.”

Jernigan believes this is the year for his game to break out.

“Just have to become that force that I was drafted to be,” Jernigan said.

That is Jernigan’s mindset. Regardless of what Sapp thinks. 

Warren Sapp does not want Ravens' Timmy Jernigan to wear his number

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Warren Sapp does not want Ravens' Timmy Jernigan to wear his number

Ravens' second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan decided to change jersey numbers this offseason, switching from No. 97 to No. 99.

The reason for the change?

First, Chris Canty, the former owner of No. 99 is no longer with the team. But Jernigan wants to wear No. 99 in honor of NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.

The only problem? Sapp wants nothing to do with it.

There may be a simple answer for this.

Jernigan played college football at Florida State. Sapp spent his time in college at Miami.

Perhaps Sapp just doesn't want anyone to try and replace him.

But covnentional wisdom suggests this has everything to do with the in-state rivalry between the two historic football programs.

RELATED: RAY RICE RETURNS TO SPEAK TO FORMER TEAMMATES

Ray Rice speaks to Ravens' rookies and shares good, bad, and ugly

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Ray Rice speaks to Ravens' rookies and shares good, bad, and ugly

OWINGS MILLS - Former Ravens running back Ray Rice was back at team headquarters Wednesday, speaking to the team’s rookies following their OTA practice.

Most, if not all of the Ravens’ rookies, had never met Rice, who was released in September of 2014 after a video surfaced of him striking his wife, who was then his fiancée. Rice has never gotten another chance in the NFL, despite being a star for years, and becoming one of the franchise’s most popular players. Not only did Rice help the Ravens win a Super Bowl, he was one of the team’s most active players in the community.

Rice’s story is another example of how quickly a person’s life can change after a major mistake.  The Ravens tweeted out several statements about Rice’s visit.

MORE RAVENS: HARBAUGH TAKES BLAME FOR OTA VIOLATION

“Our 27 sessions to our rookies through our player engagement program review and teach life management and life lessons,” the tweets began. “Rice, who played for the Ravens from 2008-14, delivered an important message that included his story, both the good and the bad. He clearly had the attention of our rookies.”

Rice received $1.588 million settlement from the Ravens in March of 2015, which concluded his wrongful-termination grievance. Rice and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti built a close relationship, and Bisciotti has never ruled out Rice returning to the organization in a player development role at some point.