'36-year-old Julius Peppers' still going strong as Packers head to Dallas

Julius Peppers had a key sack against the Giants during the Packers' wild-card win. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- His full name is Julius Frazier Peppers, but the way people talk about the 15-year NFL veteran, you'd think it's actually "36-year-old Julius Peppers."

That it's necessary to say Peppers' age whenever he's referenced speaks to the surprise that most have when they discuss his performance this season, especially of late.

It was on display again Sunday, when the Green Bay Packers' pass-rush specialist sacked Eli Manning to force a punt in the second quarter of the NFC wild-card game, and it could be critical again this week in the divisional round against the Dallas Cowboys.

With that sack, Peppers' season total reached 8.5, second on the team to Nick Perry's career-high 11, and gave him five sacks in his last eight games. Peppers can count 25 of his 143.5 career regular-season sacks during his three years in Green Bay. He has another 4.5 sacks in the five playoff games he's played in for the Packers.

Peppers moved into fifth on the NFL's career sack list last month. Eighty-one of his career regular-season sacks came with the Panthers, which was news to Packers rookie Kenny Clark when he first met Peppers.

"Honestly, I don't remember that he was playing for the Panthers at first," Clark said. "When I remember Julius growing up, he was playing for the Bears. I was probably really young when he was playing for the Panthers."

Clark, one of the youngest players in last year's draft, was 6 years old when Peppers broke into the NFL with the Panthers. Peppers already had a three-sack game by the time Clark turned 7 on Oct. 4, 2002.

The rookie defensive tackle also had no idea at the time that Peppers also played basketball at North Carolina.

"I didn't [even] know he went to North Carolina," Clark said. "A lot of people say he's a good basketball player."

So good that his former college coach Matt Doherty once said he thinks Peppers could have played in the NBA.

Early this season, it appeared Peppers' best days might have been behind him. While playing a reduced role, he had only 3.5 sacks in his first nine games. Yet Peppers said at the time, "I know I can make plays." And sure enough, he did.

Injuries to Clay Matthews forced defensive coordinator Dom Capers to expand Peppers' role, and he started to contribute once again.

Meanwhile, coach Mike McCarthy began to give Peppers days off from practice in an effort to preserve his legs.

"I can't recall someone, particularly at that position, that played the way he's playing [at Peppers' age]," McCarthy said. "He's a huge asset to our football team. I can't say enough about Julius Peppers."

Not only did Peppers have the sack against the Giants, he also had another quarterback hit and deflected two passes.

"Sometimes you've got to just dig down deep and be accountable for the role that you have on the team," Peppers said after the game. "I thought that was a timely [sack] that I came up with. I thought it was a big shift in momentum."

Peppers claimed to be undecided about his plans for next season and was quick to say that he doesn't have a contract for 2017, but the way he's played of late, it wouldn't be a surprise if he came back for a 16th season.

If the Packers beat the top-seeded Cowboys on Sunday, Peppers will play in the NFC Championship Game as a 37-year-old. His birthday is Jan. 18.

"Peppers is a freak, man," Packers defensive back Micah Hyde said. "He's like 45 years old, and he's still doing what he has to do. We see it every day in practice. He's a freak. That's plain and simple."