By Sean Jensen
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Bears defensive end Julius Peppers entered Thursday's game tied for 39th in the NFC with just 2.0 sacks.
That would seem a disappointing return on a player whom the Bears made one of the league's highest-paid defenders, signing him to a contract at the start of free agency that included $42 million in guarantees.
But the Bears didn't have any buyer's remorse before the game, and they certainly didn't after one of the most dominant performances of his career.
"He's been doing it all year," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "People say he hasn't done it because of sacks. But who cares? He gets pressure on the quarterback, and he's been there every game.
"It probably wasn't his best game, but the sacks showed up today."
And, as they say, they came in bunches.
Peppers had three tackles, three tackles for loss, three quarterback pressures and tipped one pass that cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted.
Peppers echoed Urlacher's comments.
"Overall, I've been pleased with how I've been playing," Peppers said. "I feel maybe people's opinion might change. If they look at the numbers, they might feel I'm playing well now, or better than I was before but that's not the story.
"The story is, I just happened to get a couple tonight. But I played tonight the way I have been playing all year."
Bears coach Lovie Smith acknowledged that the burst of sacks might "validate" Peppers' play, and general manager Jerry Angelo provided his own strong comment before the game.
"I wouldn't take another defensive player in the league outside of him," Angelo said before kickoff. "He's a great player. He has impacted our defense. He's a guy you have to account for. He plays all three downs. Don't let the sack numbers be the end result of how you measure this guy."
Entering the game, Peppers wasn't among the top 50 players in the NFL in sacks. But he's consistently been double-teamed, and he's had his share of signature plays during the team's 6-3 start.
In addition to 32 tackles, Peppers has four tackles for loss, a team-high 13 quarterback pressures, three passes defended and two forced fumbles. And no one on the Bears defense would deny that Peppers' presence is one of the reasons Israel Idonije, who starts opposite him.
Idonije added another sack Thursday and leads the team with six sacks.
"He really, truly is a great player. He has been a great leader for us, too, and you can't minimize the intangibles," Angelo said. "I think a big part of why we've been playing good defense is intangibly, we're very, very strong.
"I've got to say this: It starts with him."