Notes, Quotes: Panthers vs. Bucs

"The last three of our games against them have all gone down to the wire, and the one down here before I got here went down to the wire with Tampa coming out ahead. We all know it's going to come down to the end, and we just hope we can be the ones who come out on top." -- Panthers QB Jake Delhomme

--NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Julius Peppers, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and middle linebacker Dan Morgan were selected on Wednesday to represent the Panthers in the Pro Bowl next February.

In his third season, Peppers has emerged as one of the most dominating defensive ends in the league. He has 10 sacks, 76 tackles, 27 quarterback pressures, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two touchdown returns. Peppers has even lined up in recent weeks as a receiver for the Panthers in goal-line situations.

Although he had 19 sacks over his previous two seasons in the league, including 12 his rookie season in 2002, this will be Peppers' first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Peppers was extremely humble in receiving the honor, deflecting attention to his teammates and coaches.

"It means a lot to me. It's an honor to have the respect of your peers," Peppers said. "I may be the person that's going (to the Pro Bowl), but really the credit goes to my teammates and the coaches who put me in position to make plays."

"In my opinion, this has been his best season with us," Panthers head coach John Fox said. "I think every game he just gets better and better, and I think he'll continue that for some time."

Peppers' teammates believe he ultimately deserves more than just a Pro Bowl selection this year.

"You're talking about, I believe, the defensive MVP of the league this year," said Panthers safety Mike Minter. "I'm just glad we have him on our football team. It would have been a travesty if he hadn't been named to the Pro Bowl because he should be the MVP of this year."

It's believed that Baltimore safety Ed Reed is the leading candidate to win that award.

Muhammad, in his ninth NFL season, will make his second Pro Bowl appearance, the other coming in 1999. He has stepped up in the absence of last year's leading receiver, Steve Smith, who broke his leg in the regular-season opener, and has adjusted well to his new role as Jake Delhomme's go-to receiver.

"It's a big accomplishment for myself," Muhammad said. "I think more than anything I'm happy it's coming in the ninth year of my career, where it was said that you're not supposed to be as productive and as good as your younger years. But I think I just keep getting better. I think I'm getting better and really mastering the craft."

Through 14 games, Muhammad has 79 receptions for a career-high 1,195 yards and 12 touchdowns, tying a franchise record. Over the last eight games, Muhammad has averaged seven receptions for 112 yards and has totaled 10 touchdowns.

"Talking to different players around the league and defenders, people love Muhsin Muhammad," Delhomme said. "They respect him and the way he plays the game. He comes to play every single game. I know corners and safeties sometimes don't like it because he's physical, but they respect him.

"What he has done this year has been outstanding. He doesn't complain. He just goes out and works every day. It's fun to see him get the recognition he deserves."

Morgan is perhaps the one surprise among Carolina's Honolulu contingent.

He's missed four games this season and the large part of the fifth because of two concussions. However, in the games in which Morgan has played he has averaged 8.6 tackles and has two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions on the year.

"I was a little surprised," Morgan admitted. "It shows that guys that play against me know what they think of me. You definitely can't do it without the rest of your teammates."

--Last week the Panthers faced a mobile Michael Vick at quarterback, but on Sunday they go up against a true pocket passer in Tampa Bay's Brian Griese.

"The offensive line of Tampa (Bay) does a good job protecting him, so we've just got to hope that we can get him to feel uncomfortable out there. We'd rather see him running the ball than throwing it," Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Number of sacks allowed by the Panthers in their past four games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The last three of our games against them have all gone down to the wire, and the one down here before I got here went down to the wire with Tampa coming out ahead. We all know it's going to come down to the end, and we just hope we can be the ones who come out on top." -- Panthers QB Jake Delhomme

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