The Carolina Panthers traded the Chicago Bears for Jared Allen in late September and immediately installed him as their starter at right defensive end. Allen, 33, lends a veteran’s experience to the locker room -- he is the NFL’s active sack leader and also a five-time Pro Bowler. On Wednesday in the Panthers’ locker room, I asked him five questions.
Q. So you’re the NFL’s active sack leader with 136. What are some of your favorites among those 136 sacks?
A. The one and only time I got Peyton Manning, that’s obviously up there. One on Brett Favre – well, it was actually a half-sack, but that still counts. I got Tom Brady, I think in my rookie year, on the first play of the game on “Monday Night Football.” So that was pretty sweet.
They’re all great. I had 4.5 sacks once on “Monday Night Football” against Aaron Rodgers, so that was a good game. Playoff sacks are obviously important, too. I think I remember the ones I missed, though, more than the ones I got.
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Q. Speaking of sacks you have missed, you actually were part of one last week against Rodgers and it got nullified because of a defensive penalty on somebody else.
A. Yeah, I did. That stinks. I should be sitting at about 3.5 or four sacks after the past couple of weeks. The first one I had in Philly, KK (Short) knocked the ball away, and they ended up giving the sack to him instead of me because they said (Sam Bradford) was in the act of throwing.
You know, I just keep trying to hit ‘em. As long as you hit ‘em, eventually, they’ll go down with the ball in their hand.
Q. What’s the best team you have been on for an entire season and how does this Carolina team compare?
A. Minnesota in 2009. We lost to the Saints in the NFC Championship Game, in overtime.
Now this Carolina team is good. Can we go all the way? Let’s put it this way – we have the potential to go as far as we want to go. That’s not a cop-out. This league is week-to-week, a “who’s hot, who’s not” type of league. This team is special in terms of the camaraderie in the locker room. Guys genuinely get along.
There’s a competitive spirit, and every individual wants to be great, but it’s more about the team than the individual. That starts with our captains.
Like Thomas Davis, here’s a guy I’ve seen on film for a lot of years and now I get to kind of see what’s behind him. He’s always out making plays. He doesn’t have the accolades he should, but he just keeps doing it. It’s never about him.
Getting to see how Luke (Kuechly) plays, how he pushes for everyone to get better and tries to raise everybody’s level. It’s impressive.
But you have to stay focused. In 2009 with the Vikings, we let a couple slip away – games we should have won. And that meant we lost homefield advantage in the playoffs and had to play New Orleans on the road. And that may have changed the outcome of everything. Coach Rivera does a great job of reminding us to stay in the present. Every game counts for something.
Q. The Panthers keep saying they want to limit your snaps to maybe about half of the plays on defense to keep you fresh, but then they keep playing you more than that. How many snaps do you want to play?
A. I want to play them all! I’m a little different in that I grind on people. So I constantly go and go at people, and eventually you’re going to make a mistake or my conditioning is going to outlast you. I think the way the coaches are doing it is working, but I come from an old-school mentality. I can help – you just never know what snap it’s going to be.
Q. You once had 22 sacks in a single season. What level are you playing at right now compared to at your peak?
A. I’m trying to judge myself off the last three games I’ve played. I was playing a new position at the beginning of the year (with Chicago). Then I hurt my back and didn’t have any feeling in my legs. I think I’m playing all right, and now I’m as healthy as I could be. I’ve had a couple (of sacks) taken away, but I think I’m responding OK.
I’d like to be at 8-9 (sacks) after eight games, but we’ve got a whole half-season left. I’m just so happy to be back in an attack-style defense.
Coach (Dick) Vermeil texted me after one game here and said, ‘You’ve still got it.’ I’ve got a lot of respect for that man. He brought me into the league (Vermeil, then the head coach at Kansas City, drafted Allen out of Idaho State in 2004).
I’m pretty hard on myself. I would rather leave the game and have people say ‘He’s still got it!’ then have people say, ‘Get the hell out of here!’ But they still want me to play, so I must be doing something right.