CHARLOTTE -- Those who've been watching him the last few weeks weren't surprised that Julius Peppers dominated Saturday night.
Those who've been watching him since he's been with the Panthers weren't surprised he wasn't around to talk about it.
Peppers was gone from the locker room within 10 minutes of the game's end, but his teammates were raving about his 2008 debut. His sack and forced fumble on the first possession set the tone for the entire evening, as the starting defense started fast.
"He's special," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "Those are the plays, we know Julius Peppers makes those.
"It's not one of those 'wow' plays anymore. That's Pep being Pep."
Linebacker Thomas Davis was asked if he thought Peppers was eager to redeem himself after last year's 2.5 sack mess, and he just laughed.
"Hey, whether he's eager or not, you can see it's going to happen," Davis said. "He's all the way back, if you say something was wrong with him. He hasn't missed a beat this year."
Davis is one of the players who stands to benefit most from a Peppers resurgence. In addition to moving Peppers to right end, the Panthers shifted Davis behind him to the weakside linebacker position. That gives the Panthers two of their best run-and-hit defenders on the open side of the field, potentially creating more plays like the one they enjoyed in the first quarter Saturday.
"It's a great opportunity for me, to be on the same side as a guy like Julius Peppers," Davis said. "You know teams are going to key on him a lot, double-team him. I feel like it's going to free up a lot of things for me or whoever is on that side. So it's definitely great for our defense to have a guy that's going to command so much attention."
• EASY NIGHT: The most strenuous throw quarterback Jake Delhomme made all night was when he heaved his equipment bag out of the way so reporters could join him in front of his locker. Delhomme threw just one incomplete pass in his two series, and genuinely thought he'd get more work.
He said the intent was to do more on his second drive, but Adam Seward's interception set up a 10-yard field, and Williams covered all that ground on one play.
"I tell you what, ask any quarterback in the National Football League, two drives, 14 points, no passes -- I should say one pass -- you'll take that every day of the week," Delhomme said. " Certainly that was our intention, that second drive I was going to go in and throw a few passes. Then another turnover, and DeAngelo and the line did a great job.
Wait until next week. It'll be good. I'll probably play more next week against a salty bunch (Philadelphia). That's where we're at.
"I thought I was going to go back in (for a third drive), I really did. I would have liked to, but I'm sure I'll play more next week, and a good bit more the following."
• MAYBE LATER: Rookie running back Jonathan Stewart said he figured he'd stay in street clothes against the Colts, but wasn't sure if he'd play Thursday at Philadelphia, as he continues to recover from offseason toe surgery. He said the biggest problem now is breaking through some scar tissue, which causes him soreness.
Something was clearly bothering him as he spoke to reporters, but it wasn't his workload.
"It was like that itch on my back right now I can't really reach," he said. "I was itching to get out there."
• RUNNING DEEP: While Williams was the early star, reserve runners LaBrandon Toefield and DeCori Birmingham took advantage of the second half and overtime to combine for 119 yards on 29 carries. Birmingham had 70 of those, as he closed out the overtime with a number of good runs.
"Our backfield looks nice and deep right now," left tackle Jordan Gross said.
• EXTRA POINTS: Long snapper Jason Kyle said his bad snap at the end of regulation was a result of the ball sinking down into a soft spot in the grass. It appeared the ball hit left guard Milford Brown on the play, but Brown said he never felt it touch him.
"It grabbed the ground, kind of got stuck down in a hole," Kyle said with a shrug. "It happens every now and again." ...
Wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett said his hobbling off the field was no great concern, just a bruise on the outside of his right knee.