Peppers primed for pro bowl push

No, there's nothing wrong with Julius Peppers. In fact, it now appears he's ready for his annual second-half-of-the-season explosion. The Panthers entered last Sunday's game with 15 sacks, but only one belonged to Peppers, leaving some critics to wonder about the Pro Bowl defensive end's whereabouts this season. Well, make no doubt about it, Peppers has returned.

Peppers and fellow defensive end Mike Rucker had a huge impact on the 34-14 win over Tampa Bay, each coming up with two sacks on Chris Simms, one of Rucker's resulting in a fumble and leading to a Carolina touchdown. The Panthers have a combined 15 sacks in the past three games.

"A lot of times you look at the stats and people say, 'Why isn't (Peppers) doing it?'" defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. "He has been doing the same things, but today it's clicked. He has had days like this in the league. He will go three or four games without a sack, and then he'll have rip off 10 sacks in a few games."

Buckner is right.

This is exactly where Peppers turned it on last season.

Entering the eighth game of the 2004 season, Peppers had just two sacks. However, over the course of the next four games, he recorded nine sacks and finished the year with 11.

With the Jets, Bears and Bills coming up on the schedule, Peppers could be in for more big games.

Peppers, who said his broken right hand is getting better, won't allow his play to be judged by sacks alone.

"I'm happy to get sacks, don't get me wrong," he said. "But when I don't get them and people start talking about what happened and stuff ... I really won't let that stuff bother me."

Peppers was also a factor in forcing his old nemesis, Bucs right tackle Kenyetta Walker, to move before the snap three times in one series, resulting in 15 yards of penalties.

"It's only human nature for (Walker) to move," Buckner said. "If you see me balling up my first to hit you, you're going to move, right? You are going to jerk back. That's nothing against Kenyetta, but that's the kind of thing (Peppers) brings. Those are the unheard-of stats that you never see. He may not get a sack, but he makes you move offsides or you're forced to hold him, then you are losing yards, too."

As for Rucker, he moved up in the league standings with his team-leading fifth and sixth sacks of the season and his third forced fumble.

"He is smart and he understands the game," Buckner said of Rucker. "People underestimate his ability to get to the quarterback. He has a lot of athletic ability. It's kind of hard when you've got Julius Peppers on the other side. Everybody sees how great he is. Think about it, if you didn't have (Peppers), then you would see just how great (Rucker) is."

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