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Peppers puzzled by quiet season

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — In a season full of disappointment for the Carolina Panthers, Julius Peppers’ disappearing act has been the most puzzling.
To find where Peppers ranks among the leaders in sacks, you have to go through 76 players who have more than Peppers’ meager three-sack total through 13 games.
The three-time Pro Bowler insisted again Thursday that he feels fine physically.
The illness that sidelined him in training camp can’t be blamed for why Peppers has gone from one of the most feared defensive ends who demanded a double team on nearly every play, to someone who is single-blocked on nearly every down and a virtual non-factor.
And as the Panthers prepare for Sunday’s game against Seattle and defensive end Patrick Kerney, whose 13 1/2 sacks lead the league, Peppers’ lack of production becomes even more glaring.
Peppers then stopped himself.
While the 29th-ranked offense is getting most of the blame for why the Panthers (5-8) have guaranteed their second straight non-winning season, the defensive line has been a huge disappointment.
With the high-priced Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu, Carolina has an NFL-low 16 sacks in 13 games. Six of them came against lowly San Francisco.
Peppers, who has been held to 19 quarterback pressures and 54 tackles, has looked nothing like the freakish athlete who also played college basketball and even lined up as a receiver a few seasons ago.
Watching the 6-foot-7 Peppers off the ball is a head-scratching experience. He’s routinely stood up at the line of scrimmage by one blocker, providing little push to get through the line.
One play in Sunday’s 37-6 loss to Jacksonville provided an example of Peppers’ decline. Not only wasn’t Peppers double-teamed, 5-foot-7 Maurice Jones-Drew blocked him. It worked, as Peppers failed to get to the quarterback.
Peppers’ down season leaves the Panthers with a big decision before next season. Peppers has one year left on his deal, and his huge salary cap figure will make it imperative the Panthers do something with his contract.
Before the season, it was thought Peppers could command more than the six-year, $72 million contract given to Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney.
But there’s a question of whether Peppers is worth the money after a bad season that will likely end his three-year Pro Bowl streak.
Notes: Panthers 44-year-old QB Vinny Testaverde missed practice for a second straight day with general soreness, although coach John Fox insisted he’s not injured. Fox said he likely won’t decide until Sunday whether Testaverde or undrafted rookie Matt Moore would start. … WR Keary Colbert (knee) missed practice for a second straight day, while G Jeremy Bridges (abscessed tooth) was back on the field.