Carolina Panthers

Even though Peppers is well, he's still been ineffective

CHARLOTTE -- He had to reiterate it Monday because the persistent chatter won't go away.

No, Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said, defensive end Julius Peppers is not sick.

Apparently, he's just ineffective.

Since he missed two separate stints of training camp with a vague "illness," rumors have run rampant among fans and in league circles about the nature of Peppers' diminished play this year. The theory goes, he must not be well, since he's off his career pace by a mile this season.

"I think that's why they probably call them rumors," Fox said. "He does not have an illness. He just hasn't made as many sacks as he's had in the past, so we'll continue to work in that area. He's doing everything in his power. He works hard. He prepares hard. We've just got to get better.

"Anytime you sit here as a head coach and you're 4-5, you're not happy. I'm not displeased with effort. I'm not displeased with the attitude of the team relating to him, also. We've just got to get better."

Through nine games, Peppers has 38 tackles (seventh on the team), along with 1.5 sacks, nine hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. That's hardly what they've come to expect of him, since he's averaged nearly 70 tackles and 11 sacks in his first five seasons here.

And while the sacks get most of the attention, the other numbers are slipping, as well. He had just two tackles Sunday against Atlanta (after getting one stop in the September game there), his fifth game this year with fewer than five stops.

"It just hasn't happened as much this year," Fox said. "I've think we've struggled a little bit early on defensively. I think in the last month we've played better. We're more in the top third of the league now than bottom third. Julius just hasn't had as many opportunities. He still makes tackles, and if you look at him statistically, he hasn't had an interception and ran it 80 yards, the types of things he'd done in the past.

"But sometimes that's how it works. You've got to get somebody to throw it to him."

• IF YOU SAY SO: Fox balked at the "conservative" tag being placed on him, after he was asked about the difficulty of going for a fourth-and-one touchdown attempt (which was fumbled out of the end zone by Steve Smith) as opposed to taking the easy points at the beginning of the second quarter.

"I'd say going on almost six seasons you can probably count them on one hand," Fox said of such out-of-the-box calls. "It was very short and they played something that opened up the situation that we did, and we took a shot. It didn't work out.

"I don't know conservative. You said that. I don't believe that, but everybody is entitled to their opinion."

When asked which word he'd choose, Fox defended his 48-41 record.

"I don't know. We've won some games around here," he said. "I think it's been effective. I'm not ashamed of the games we've won here or our record here.

"Sometimes I like points better. If I had known we were going to have an incomplete I would have kicked it. Unfortunately, I can't make that call after the play. But some people do."

For the record, Fox is 21-of-51 all-time on fourth downs, a .412 success percentage that's well off this year's league average of .522.

• EXTRA POINTS: Fox mentioned DeShaun Foster (toe) as the only injury to come out of the game that wasn't previously reported. Safety Deke Cooper and defensive tackle Damione Lewis left with shoulder injuries, though Lewis returned to the game. ...

When asked about the count on David Carr's concussions, Fox said the quarterback also took a blow to the head in the New Orleans game in which he injured his back, that being the injury that prevented him from going at Arizona.

"He'd had blows to the head twice in the last 27 days and our medical people are going to err on the side of caution," Fox said.

Carr himself said last week the only other concussion he's had prior to the one in Tennessee was in 2003.

"We knew about it," Fox said. "The reason he was held out of that game (Arizona) was his back. He didn't practice or play. But that was a combination of both of those on that hit in New Orleans.