Musick: Hot Peppers can life Bears' defense

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

LAKE FOREST –Julius Peppers looked at me as if I had three eyes.

Two eyes, now that would have made sense. I was born that way.

Four eyes also would have been respectable, considering my spectacles.

But all I wanted to know was how Peppers felt physically compared with how he felt at the beginning of the regular season. Because –I didn’t tell him this part –he seemed to be playing much better lately, almost as if he had overcome an injury that, say, lingered past training camp and into early autumn.

“How do I feel?” Peppers asked, still in uniform after Wednesday’s practice.

Yes.

“Not as fresh,” Peppers said. “This is Game 11.”

This was the part where I wanted to stare back at Peppers as if he had three eyes. But I resisted, mostly because I hate hospitals and did not wish to be rushed to one.

In that spirit, let’s hope these words do not find their way into Peppers’ paws.

Because I think he’s lying.

“I don’t think he’s lying,” Bears linebacker James Anderson said.

Well, I think he’s lying.

“The season takes a toll on everybody, so everybody’s getting a little worn down,” Anderson said. “But it’s the guys that can stay at the same speed or actually improve through the season that really show up.”

Yes, exactly.

And Peppers is starting to really show up.

Remember the first seven weeks of the season? Peppers was a once-upon-a-time defensive end. He was a Bennigan’s. He was a Borders. He was a Blockbuster.

Now, he’s a beast.

Consider the evidence. Heading into November, the eight-time Pro Bowl selection had registered one sack this season. One! Uno. No mas.

In the three games that have followed, Peppers has three sacks, 15 tackles, two pass break-ups and two tackles for losses. His latest performance against the Baltimore Ravens was by far his best of the season as he sacked Joe Flacco twice and racked up a team-leading 12 tackles. Twelve! Dios mio.

“It was unbelievable production from a defensive lineman,” said Corey Wootton, who should know because he, too, is a defensive lineman. “Twelve tackles, that’s like a linebacker number.”

This was not a lie.

It turned out that Peppers had predicted his big game against the Ravens. The Bears’ defense was missing a couple of its biggest stars in Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, not to mention second-year defensive end Shea McClellin, and Peppers decided that it was time to make a statement.

“He had it in his mind,” Wootton said. “We had been talking all week. He said, ‘I’m going to take this game over.’ And there was no doubt in my mind that he would.”

And he did.

But while Peppers has made plenty of noise on the field during his career, he has preferred to keep quiet off of the field. Part of what lured him to the Bears was the fact that many other star athletes played for this team and in this city, and those downtown skyscrapers offered shadows that his previous home of Charlotte did not.

To the media, Peppers typically is quiet and distant.

Think Brandon Marshall or Martellus Bennett. Now think of the exact opposite. That’s Peppers’ personality.

“He’s the same guy away from the camera,” Anderson said. “Same, quiet guy. He just kind of keeps to himself.

“When he pulls the group together to say something, it’s like, ‘Whoa, Pep?’ ”

That’s why it was so interesting to hear it was Peppers that had spoken up and predicted his big game against the Ravens. And that’s why it sounded so unusual to hear Wootton describe Peppers’ vocal, in-game demands that the entire defense improve.

Opponents have taken notice of Peppers’ production.

“He’s so experienced and so smart,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who will face Peppers this weekend. “He’ll lull you to sleep, and then he’ll go make a big play.”

Perhaps this was by design.

Was this Peppers’ strategy, I wondered? To lull opponents to sleep?

“My strategy during the game?” Peppers said.

Again, with the three-eye thing.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Peppers said. “I’m not sure how to respond to that. I didn’t hear what [Fisher] said, so, …”

He was lulling me to sleep.

He’s back.

• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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