Inside Slant

Just how good is Julius Peppers?<br><br> Panthers head coach John Fox, who also coached Michael Strahan with the New York Giants, called Peppers the most athletic defensive end he's had the privilege to coach.

INSIDE SLANT

Just how good is Julius Peppers?

Panthers head coach John Fox, who also coached Michael Strahan with the New York Giants, called Peppers the most athletic defensive end he's had the privilege to coach.

"I don't know that I've had a defensive end with his athletic ability," Fox said. "The things he's capable of doing -- changing directions, his quickness, his leaping ability, his speed and his size. You know he's not a little defensive end. He's 290 pounds. A man of that size, I've never seen an athlete quite like him."

The next step for the Panthers might be to line him up at tight end in goal-line situations, something quarterback Jake Delhomme said he would love to see.

"The way he catches the ball ... he would be a machine," Delhomme said.

Peppers is having a Pro Bowl season for the Panthers with nine sacks and two interceptions.

Sunday, he intercepted a pass from Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese in the flat and returned the ball 47 yards to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead and earn some personal retribution. Earlier this year at Denver's Mile High Stadium, Peppers intercepted Jake Plummer's pass in the end zone and ran nearly 100 yards before running out of gas and tripping over his own feet at the 3-yard line.

"It's easier to score when I'm not a mile high and I can breathe a little bit," Peppers said. "That was definitely in the back of my mind, not falling down or getting run down from behind."

Peppers also had a sack, his seventh in the last four games, to give him nine for the season.

He also blocked a Martin Gramatica field goal on Sunday. Ironically, it was the second blocked field goal of Peppers' career, both of them coming against Gramatica.

But in what might have been the most impressive play of the game, Peppers chased down Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman on a screen pass after starting more than 10 yards behind.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB Nick Goings proved last week was no fluke, rushing for 106 yards on 23 carries. Goings took over the team lead in rushing from DeShaun Foster, who is on injured reserve, and has 357 yards on 80 carries, good for a respectable 4.5-yard average.

When asked if he could have ever imagined in training camp that Goings would lead the team in rushing this year, center Jeff Mitchell said, "Granted, he was about fourth on the depth chart ..."

When reporters interrupted and told Mitchell that Goings was actually the team's sixth option at running back, he laughed and said, "OK, granted, he would be unlikely. But when he does get the ball he is fast. When Nick's number is called, you have faith in him."

--WR Keary Colbert set a team record for most receiving yards by a rookie with 600, surpassing the mark of the imprisoned Rae Carruth, who had 545 yards in 1997.

--Ex-Panther offensive tackle Todd Steussie reported as a tackle eligible on a third-down play for the Bucs during the first quarter and was promptly flagged for a false start.

Not that any of that surprised Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner.

"We knew it was going to happen," Buckner said. "We used to get him all of the time in practice. So I knew sooner or later I was going to get him. I just had to wait until the right time.

"That was the big chuckle. We used to call him first-and-15 when he was here. He didn't like that; he hated that. But he's on the other team now, so there's nothing you can do about it."

--The Panthers have scored a touchdown on their first possession in back-to-back games after failing to do so in their first nine games.

--KR-PR Jamall Broussard was benched Sunday, and the Panthers instead used Gamble on punt returns and Jamal Robertson and Brandon Bennett on kickoff returns. Gamble had one punt return for 16 yards, and Robertson averaged 22.5 yards per kickoff return.

--RB Nick Goings has run for 227 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games as the team's starting back. He should put up good numbers Sunday against New Orleans.

--RB Jamal Robertson returned kickoffs on Sunday for Carolina. He replaced Jamall Broussard in that role.

--FB Brad Hoover missed his second straight game on Sunday with a hip contusion. The team hopes he'll be back against New Orleans.

--K John Kasay will be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against New Orleans, but it appears that, barring a setback in practice, he should be ready to go.

--WR Muhsin Muhammad was held to 52 yards on two receptions Sunday by the Bucs. But he helped open things up for Keary Colbert.

--FB Casey Cramer had two penalties on Sunday but was praised for his blocking ability by head coach John Fox.

--CB Chris Gamble, who entered the game having recorded an interception in each of his last two games, almost had an interception that he could have taken to the house. Gamble made a great break on the ball, but Brian Griese's pass was just a little low for him to grab. Gamble also returned punts for the Panthers.

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