Peppers' 'unbelievable' pregame speech sparks rout
Around the locker room, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy gives veterans equal opportunity to inspire the team.
Before games, McCarthy will ask one of three team captains to rally their teammates before leaving their lockers and taking the field. He calls it "an opportunity for leadership." Sunday night, it was Julius Peppers' turn. The 34-year-old, first-year outside linebacker left an impression.
"He was unbelievable," McCarthy said. "Clearly the best one we've ever had."
The speech is only supposed to last two minutes. Nobody told Peppers. McCarthy joked that's why his team was a tad late arriving on the field Sunday night.
After the game, Peppers wouldn't divulge details of his heart-thumping monologue. Basically just go out and play hard, he said. Nothing more.
Teammates didn't mind talking about it.
Cornerback Tramon Williams admitted Peppers' speech surprised him. Peppers has a quiet presence inside the locker room. Usually, he leads by example.
Not this time.
"We went out there and did everything he said," Williams said. "It was a really good speech. I wish ya'll could have heard it personally."
The Packers played like they were inspired Sunday night, thumping the Bears 55-14. Of course, Peppers' play on the field also played a part.
He had a strip-sack against former teammate and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, a quarterback hit, two hurries, and a tipped pass leading to safety Micah Hyde's first-quarter interception. For Peppers, it continued a stretch of solid play this season.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Peppers' production quickly earned the respect of his new teammates. He's been a difference-maker, often a game-changer. Even in his 13th season, Peppers is tied for ninth in the NFC with five sacks. He's also tied for the league lead with three fumble recoveries.
Peppers and Houston Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt are the only two players in the NFL with a sack, fumble recovery, fumble forced, interception and touchdown this season. And he's only getting better as the season progresses.
Peppers has one sack in each of the past three games, something he hadn't done since his first season with the Bears in 2010.
"I think Julius Peppers is just getting more and more comfortable each and every week," McCarthy said. "Not only with what he's asked to do but doing it with the people, the individuals next to him."
Perhaps now he's also becoming a vocal leader, too.
Capers missed Peppers' speech because he was making his way up to the coaches' booth before kickoff, but he heard about it. The way teammates responded didn't surprise him.
"The one thing I can tell you about Julius is he has the respect of all the guys in that locker room," Capers said. "I've always believed that this game is a society of productivity. When a guy goes out and produces and has done it as long as he has – Julius is a man of few words – those kind of guys when they stand up and speak, everybody listens."
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