Julius Peppers turned 37 on Wednesday.
It certainly was a happier birthday than his 35th. That was the day when the Green Bay Packers were on their way to the Super Bowl, only to collapse in epic fashion in the NFC Championship Game at Seattle.
With eight consecutive wins, the Packers are back in the NFC Championship Game.
“That’s two years ago,” Peppers said. “Obviously, every season is different. We are very happy to be in this position again where we’re in the championship game. This is another opportunity — a different opportunity — that we have to take advantage of.”
That opportunity comes on Sunday at Atlanta. If they win, they’d advance to Super Bowl LI. Peppers has played in only one Super Bowl during his Hall of Fame-worthy career. That came in 2003 with Carolina — his second season in the league.
“I don’t really think about it that much,” Peppers said. “I am trying to just really dive into the preparation. You can’t necessarily worry about the outcome too much. Preparation is what is going to give you that confidence to go out and perform. That’s where we are really trying to dive in and hone in on that because that’s the most important thing at this point, not any storybook endings.”
Peppers will have a key role in trying to combat Atlanta’s top-ranked scoring offense. With a short-handed secondary trying to stop the league’s most-diverse passing attack, it will be critical for Green Bay’s pass rush to impact quarterback Matt Ryan. Peppers had 7.5 sacks during the regular season and another in the Wild Card game against the Giants. He had just one assisted tackle against Dallas, though.
“The focus is always to try and make them one-dimensional when it’s a team that is very balanced like this team is,” Peppers said. “You can’t let them do everything that they want to do. You want to take something away. Which one, we don’t know yet. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us to try and slow them down. They are a very high-powered offense.”
At age 37, who knows if Peppers will get another opportunity to get to a Super Bowl. This is his final season under contract. If he wants to play, there’s little doubt he could play again next year — here or elsewhere. “Not yet,” Peppers said when asked if he’s considered what he wants to do in 2017.
Even if he plays another season, he knows better than anyone that nothing is guaranteed.
“Obviously, as a young guy, you think you’re going to be back that next year,” Peppers said. “You found out how hard it is. You go through the offseason workouts, you go through training camp and you go through the whole season. You’re never guaranteed tomorrow in the playoffs. When you go out on that field, you never know if this will be the last game or not. You always have that in your head going out. You try to learn from past experiences in that situation. It is definitely tough to get back to the playoffs, not to mention the conference championship game. It’s just tough enough to get in the playoffs. I think that’s the point that has been stressed. We all understand it and we are ready to capitalize.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.