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Julius Peppers needs to be fresh to be Julius Peppers

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Updated: November 21, 2013 12:08PM



Julius Peppers is 33 and, by his own admission, ‘‘not fresh’’ after 10 games of his 12th NFL season. But he’s still Julius Peppers.

At least he was last week, when the Bears’ eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end awoke from one of his intermittent slumbers to dominate the Ravens in a 23-20 overtime victory at Soldier Field. Peppers had two sacks, two other tackles for loss, two hurries and a career-high 12 tackles — as teammate Corey Wootton noted in amazement Wednesday, ‘‘that’s a linebacker number’’ of tackles.

But wait, there’s more. When Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe tried to help out on Peppers inside on a fourth-down play, it allowed defensive end Cheta Ozougwu to make a beeline for quarterback Joe Flacco for a sack and fumble that gave the Bears possession in the third quarter.

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

The idea that the great Julius Peppers can take over a game when he feels like it is not a new one — Peppers is fourth among active players with 1151/2 career sacks; he has 28 games with multiple sacks. The question is — at his age — how often he feels like it.

The week before the Ravens game, Peppers had one tackle and no impact plays (sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, pass breakups, etc.). That was the sixth time in the Bears’ first nine games that Peppers had one tackle or fewer and the fifth time he had no impact plays. In previous seasons, even when he was double-teamed or just missed on multiple sacks, Peppers always found his way on the stat sheet. But this year, he has been hit-and-miss.

It remains to be seen if Peppers can sustain at least a semblance of his performance against the Ravens in the game Sunday against the Rams in St. Louis. Because he looks like an every-other-week player who might benefit more from taking a week off and resting up for the Vikings on Dec. 1.

As unfathomable as that tack might seem to the Bears, they know he needs his rest. On a short week against the Giants on ‘‘Thursday Night Football,’’ Peppers was shut out of the stat sheet — not even one tackle. With 10 days of rest, he had four tackles and a tackle for loss against the Redskins. After the bye week, he had a sack, two pass breakups and an interception against the Packers. On a short week against the Lions, he had one tackle. Then the 12 tackles and two sacks against the Ravens, his best game of the season.

Right?

‘‘I’m not sure; I’ll let you guys debate that,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘What I’m focused on right now is St. Louis and getting prepared for this week.’’

At this point, Peppers’ preparation should include plenty of rest. He knows what to do on Sunday. This season is only getting longer.

‘‘How do I feel? Not as fresh,’’ Peppers said Wednesday after practice. ‘‘This is Game 11, so it’s a long season. We’ve just got to adjust, whether it’s getting extra treatment, managing practice time . . . you just have to find what works for you.’’

That’s trickier than it ever has been for Peppers. The Bears are ‘‘managing’’ his practice time to make sure he’s at his best on Sundays. Sometimes it makes a difference. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the Bears insist they’re a better team when he’s on the field no matter what he’s doing. He’s a proud leader, and his energy and work ethic are contagious traits that make his teammates better. That’s all well and good. But at this point, the Bears need a little bit more than that.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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