Fourth-quarter MVP? Byron Maxwell has it covered

Posted Jan 1, 2014

What would the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense do without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond? Turn to Byron Maxwell, who turned in an MVP effort in the final quarter of the regular season.

In the Seahawks’ Week 10 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta, they lost starting right cornerback Brandon Browner to a groin injury. Walter Thurmond stepped in to start the next game against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field, but was then suspended for four games by the NFL.

Down a key starter and his backup, what were the Seahawks to do? Lean on the next-man-up philosophy that has become a routine this season, and that would be Byron Maxwell.

Maxwell had been with the Seahawks since they selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, but had never started a game for them.

An obvious source of concern, Maxwell quickly turned it into a no-worries situation. He intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass near the goal line in the Week 14 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco; had two more picks the following week during the shutout victory over the New York Giants in the Meadowlands; tipped a pass in the end that was intercepted by Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor in the Week 16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field; and added another interception in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams.

That’s why Maxwell is’s choice as the team’s MVP for the final quarter of the regular season. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, because no one has been startled by how well Maxwell has accepted – and answered – the challenge.

“Byron plays with so much confidence and he’s such a good player,” safety Chris Maragos said. “He’s got the prototypical body you want in a corner (6 feet 1, 207 pounds). He tackles well. He covers well. He runs well. He’s really playing really, really well.”

How well has Maxwell played? Thurmond returned from his league-imposed suspension last week, but Maxwell remained in the starting lineup. In the five games he has started, Maxwell has 11 tackles and 10 passes defensed to go with his four interceptions.

“Byron has really taken off,” said Kris Richard, who played cornerback for the Seahawks (2002-04) and now is in his fourth season of coaching what has become the best and deepest secondary in the NFL. “But it’s fitting, because of the way he’s handled himself and the type of character he has.

“I couldn’t be happier for a better person.”

Part of what has allowed Maxwell to handle the situation he was thrust into is understanding the situation he has been thrust into – not only starting on an island for the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, but doing it opposite All-Pro and Pro Bowl corner Richard Sherman.

“I just know I’m unproven. I’ve got an All-Pro corner on the other side. Everybody is the secondary is pretty much Pro Bowlers,” Maxwell said in the locker room at Candlestick Park after he had made his first NFL interception. “I’m the only unproven one out there. So they’re going to come at me. It’s opportunities, really, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”

Those were astute reads by Maxwell on several levels.

First, the “pretty much Pro Bowlers” line when referring to free safety Earl Thomas, Chancellor and Sherman. All three were voted to the Pro Bowl last week. Then, the “I’m the only unproven one out there.” Make that past tense. Finally, those “opportunities” and “just trying to take advantage of them.” Check, and check.

To understand how Maxwell has been able to not only step in but step up, it helps to see how he prepares behind the scenes – on the practice field, in the meeting room, anywhere and everywhere.

“Byron is a guy who has truly been faithful,” Richard said. “Even when he came in as a rookie, he was on the fast track then. It was just going to be a matter of time, and of course he was just going to have to wait his turn because he had other players ahead of him and those guys are pretty good, too.

“But he’s been diligent, he’s been faithful and he’s always just been preparing himself. He’s kept a great attitude, even when he knew he deserved to play. And we talk about that all the time – everybody deserves a chance to play, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get the chance to do it. So how do you handle it from there? And Byron has handled himself the right way, with class and humility.”