CHARLOTTE -- It looked so simple.
Julius Peppers recovered quickly from Mike Gandy's cut-block attempt, kept his balance by placing his left hand on the field and then waited on the arrival of Kurt Warner's screen pass for Beanie Wells. He leapt lightly, snagged the pass and strolled in the end zone, as though it had happened the week before and would do so again in seven days.
Of course, it had actually been five years since Peppers held aloft the football in an opposing end zone. That's how it goes for defensive ends; touchdowns are rare for even the best of them. But Peppers made the play look so effortless that it seemed almost humdrum.
"How many defensive linemen do you find that can do that? Not very many," linebacker
Two quarters after providing the knockdown blow, Peppers came back with the knockout punch, stalking Warner from behind, corralling him and jarring loose the football. When
For knocking the Cardinals down and then out, Peppers earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors Wednesday. It is Peppers' third Defensive Player of the Week award; he also earned it in Week 10 last year with a three-sack, two-forced fumble day at Oakland and in Week 10 of the 2006 season, when he had three sacks and a fumble recovery in a Monday Night Football win over Tampa Bay.
Peppers has surged since the Panthers returned from their bye, logging six sacks, two forced fumbles, and the interception return for a score in those games.
"I think he's been tremendous during the last four weeks. We need him to be and he has been," head coach John Fox said. "I think he's probably played a good a stretch, in my opinion, these last four games as I've ever seen him play."
"I've only been here three years, and it's his best stretch since I've been here," defensive tackle
Becoming comfortable in Ron Meeks' new defense has helped.
"Everybody's getting a little more familiar with the responsibilities in what we're supposed to be doing, and it's leading to a better performance by the group," Peppers said.
His run also coincides with the arrival of 340-pound defensive tackle
"He's helped inside. It allows us to play a little more schemes and games up front, because he's taking up more space up front," Peppers said.
While others have helped, it's Peppers who has capitalized, making the big plays the Panthers defense had lacked in September.
"You see it on the practice field," quarterback
"It's nice to see the way he's played the last four games."
This is the third time in the last four seasons Peppers has accumulated six sacks in four games. He also did so last year (Oct. 19-Nov. 16) and in 2006 (Sept. 17-Oct. 8). Only twice has Peppers had more sacks in a four-game stretch: Nov. 2004 and from Oct. 13-Nov. 10 of his 2002 rookie season. Each of those stretches saw him log seven sacks.