Peppers leads small pack of mid-30s contributors in playoffs
Julius Peppers has his birthday coming up real soon.
This is one most NFL players don’t get to celebrate while they’re actually still players.
The same day the Green Bay Packers take on the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC championship, this Sunday, Peppers will turn 35. Not even to the midpoint of the average American lifespan, this is a relatively ancient milestone in a game where the typical player is, oh, 26.
Peppers, though, has hardly been showing his age. There are a few others who’ll be in action this weekend, too, from Kevin Williams to Reggie Wayne to Vince Wilfork, still making meaningful contributions to their teams heading into the conference championship games.
Peppers was one of the most dominant players on the field last week in Green Bay’s win over Dallas, matching the team high with six tackles, drawing a holding penalty and forcing two fumbles.
One came during a sack, which the Cowboys recovered. The other might have been the most pivotal play of the game, including the replay reversal of Dez Bryant’s fourth-down grab near the goal line.
DeMarco Murray burst through a big hole that Peppers was being pushed away from, but the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end escaped his block and knocked the ball out just as Murray approached the secondary with plenty of room to run.
The Packers fell on the ball near midfield and drove the other way for a field goal to pull within 14-13. Until that point early in the third quarter, the Cowboys were beginning to pull away.
”You need all hands on deck right now and everybody making these plays at crucial times,” Peppers said.
The soft-spoken Peppers, who has played the outside linebacker position this season for the first time in his career, has been just as valuable as an adviser for his younger teammates.
Coach Mike McCarthy recently mentioned a one-on-one conversation between Peppers and teammate David Bakhtiari that gave the 23-year-old left tackle some valuable insight about his strengths and weaknesses after the two faced each the previous season when Peppers played for the Chicago Bears.
”I know David was thankful for that,” McCarthy said.
The Seahawks have been grateful they took a chance with Williams, who considered retirement after Minnesota let him become a free agent following 11 years with the Vikings.
The long-time 3-technique defensive tackle was moved to the nose tackle spot after Brandon Mebane suffered a season-ending injury, and the 34-year-old has been stellar since then. Williams, like Peppers with the Packers, is the oldest player on the team.
”He’s such a savvy player that it just made sense to him because he’s been around so long,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
That’s the great advantage these guys have, of course, that first-hand experience and those tricks of the trade accumulated over the years. Despite the natural decline in strength and speed, age can still give an edge in this sport.
Indianapolis, which plays New England this Sunday for the AFC championship, has one-third of the 30-plus-year-old players scattered among the four teams still alive.
The Colts have the oldest team in the NFL, with an active roster sporting an average player age of 27 years and 256 days based on the most recent game played by each club, according to STATS research.
The Patriots are 14th at 26 years and 303 days, the Seahawks are 22nd at 26 years and 236 days and the Packers are 28th and 26 years and 148 days. That’s the fifth-youngest team in the league.
Wayne, who has been picked for six Pro Bowls and tallied six seasons of 1,200 yards receiving or more, has been relatively quiet at age 36 with T.Y. Hilton taking over as Andrew Luck’s top option. Wayne has been playing with a torn left triceps.
But, like 42-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri and 34-year-old defensive end Cory Redding, Wayne still has a useful role. Maybe it’s a key block downfield. Or a first-down catch in the fourth quarter to help the Colts drain the clock, as in the wild-card round game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
This is the 12th time in 14 seasons Wayne has been in the playoffs.
”Let’s live in this moment. Let’s not worry about what goes on afterward,” he said.
On the other side of the ball for the Patriots will be Wilfork, the 33-year-old five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who recovered well from an injury-filled season.
”I worked my tail off just to get back and play football like I know how to play,” he said, ”and I never take nothing for granted.”
AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Tim Booth in Seattle, Michael Marot in Indianapolis and Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.
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