Slumping Peppers moving past last Tampa Bay game

Updated: November 6, 2003, 8:11 PM ET
ESPN

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers is in a slump, desperate to add to his total of just two sacks this season.

His next chance comes Sunday against Tampa Bay and an offense that has proved it can rattle the Panthers' second-year player.

Bucs offensive guard Kenyatta Walker toyed with Peppers during the first meeting, continuously swatting at Peppers' face until Peppers lost his cool and threw a punch at him. Peppers was called for a personal foul, and while nursing a bloody lip following Carolina's 12-9 overtime victory, accused Walker and the Bucs of cheap shots.

"I don't think I called it dirty play," Peppers said Thursday. "I think I said there was a couple of dirty, dirty things that happened. There was a couple of cheap shots, but that's just football."

Not to Walker, who admitted he's developed an intense rivalry with Peppers, last year's defensive rookie of the year.

"It's personal as long as it's on the field," Walker said. "Once the clock is over, it's nothing, really. But when we're on that field, we definitely don't like each other."

Peppers acted surprised by Walker's assessment of their relationship.

"Who? No. 67?" he asked. "It's whatever, man. I'm going to play how I usually play -- I don't care who is on the other side of the ball."

But Peppers might need a little trash-talking to bait him into a breakout game. Statistically, he's having a disappointing season after registering 12 sacks in 12 games as a rookie.

But the Panthers insist sack totals aren't that important and Peppers is often a victim of up to four blockers at a time trying to slow his path to the quarterback.

"I have people coming at me from everywhere," Peppers said. "It seems like every time I have to beat at least two people -- at least. And if it's a one-on-one thing, then teams are throwing it quick."

The extra attention on Peppers has opened a path for teammate Mike Rucker, who has a career-best 10 sacks.

But playing for the NFC South leaders is enough for Peppers, who said he doesn't care about his stats or Rucker's.

"I'm not worried about getting sacks," Peppers said. "I'm just trying to win games. As long as we keeping winning, I don't care if I have another sack the rest of the year."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index