GREEN BAY—Apparently, Packers fans can thank fullback John Kuhn for the addition of Julius Peppers to the Green Bay defense in 2014.
“He actually cost me my job,” Peppers said on Thursday, joking about Kuhn’s block on the famous fourth-and-8, division-winning touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb in the final minute at Soldier Field last December. “He got me released, but I guess it turned out pretty good.”
With the NFC North title at stake, Peppers came within an eyelash of sacking Rodgers when Kuhn dove in front of the quarterback for a cut block. His legs taken out, Peppers couldn't stop Rodgers from slipping out of the pocket to hit a wide-open Cobb downfield for a 48-yard TD. The Packers won the game, 33-28, and advanced to the playoffs. The Bears’ season was over, and shortly after, so was Peppers’ four-year tenure in Chicago.
Nine months later, Peppers now returns to Soldier Field playing against the team for whom he was nearly the division-winning hero.
“If I would have made the play, I probably wouldn’t be here now,” Peppers said. “It was one of those things. At the time, it was like the worst thing that could’ve happened, but now, it’s probably the best thing that could’ve happened.”
Peppers said he has no hard feelings at all toward the Bears and feels no extra motivation for Sunday’s reunion. He’ll be opposing an organization he respects and many players he still considers friends.
“It’s not really that big of a deal this time. It was more of an emotional experience when I went back to Carolina for the first time,” said Peppers, who is from North Carolina and who played his first eight pro seasons for the Panthers.
“This time it’s more business. It’s more of a business trip.”
Job one for Peppers and the Packers defense is to play a complete game.
The unit started slowly in Week 2 against the Jets but allowed just three points over the final 40 minutes. Then last week in Detroit, it was the reverse, allowing the Lions just three points well into the third quarter but then surrendering two long, time-consuming drives down the stretch.
“It’s a process,” Peppers said. “Nobody feels good about how we played last week, how we finished the game. This is another opportunity to get better at that. It’s a long season. We have time to get those things corrected and we’re going to keep working toward that.”
Peppers didn’t want to discuss his individual performance against the Lions, but it was clearly his best as a Packer to date. He came unblocked for a tackle for loss of Detroit running back Reggie Bush, and he registered three QB hits on Matthew Stafford, none bigger than a strip-sack in the red zone in the third quarter. Peppers recovered the fumble himself, preventing the Lions from extending a 12-7 lead.
The previous week, he showed his skill dropping into coverage, picking up Jets running back Chris Houston out of the backfield on a wheel route and nearly intercepting Geno Smith’s pass.
While Peppers still gets to put his hand on the ground when the Packers employ their new 4-3 front, his transition to 3-4 outside linebacker appears to have become old news.
“He’s definitely been everything I thought he would be,” Mike McCarthy said. “You see him getting more and more comfortable.”
That goes for his new off-the-field surroundings as well. Rodgers said on Wednesday that two weeks ago they were joking about the personal fouls Peppers has been flagged for against Rodgers, namely a late hit out of bounds when Carolina visited Lambeau Field in 2008 and a roughing-the-passer call in the 2010 NFC Championship that Rodgers said “made my lip a little bloody.”
“He still believes that wasn’t a personal foul,” Rodgers said. “He’s on our team, so we tell him what he needs to hear about that.
“It’s great having him. He’s a talented guy. He played well last week and he’s just going to keep getting better for us.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - SEPT. 25