When Byron Maxwell first arrived in Seattle as a rookie in 2011, he looked at the talent around him at cornerback and decided he needed to find a way to make himself valuable.
Maxwell decided that, while plenty of corners can cover or even intercept passes, not many are known for forcing fumbles, so he started studying film of Charles "Peanut" Tillman, who forced 44 fumbles in his NFL career with a move that came to be known as the "Peanut Punch."
"It was one of the ways of staying on the field," Maxwell said. "We had a lot of competition when I first started getting on the field. We had Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner, so I was like, 'Man, I've got to stay on the field, so let me think of ways besides interceptions to stay on the field,' so that was just one of the ways. I would look at Peanut Tillman, he would affect the game like that."
Former Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto helped coach Maxwell on how to affectively punch the ball loose, and seven years into his career Maxwell has 11 forced fumbles, 12 if you include the turnover he caused in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In Sunday's win over the Cowboys, Maxwell again showed his knack for knocking the ball loose, punching the ball out of Dez Bryant's hand to give the Seahawks their first of three turnovers, all of which led to touchdowns. As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted, not everyone can do that in part because it requires finding a balance between going for the ball and making sure the tackle is secured.
"That's a very difficult choice, and it's why guys don't try it more, because they want to secure the tackle and make sure that they don't miss the opportunity and the guy is running down the sidelines," Carroll said. "There's a real knack to it. There's a timing and a feel for it, and you can do it all. Some guys can do it all and Maxie happens to be one of those guys who has developed a real knack and the ability to make those decisions at the right time and not give up the tackle to do it. So there's a way that you do it and there's a lot that goes into it, and we really admire and hold the guys in high esteem that have figured that out, because that's a whole different level of mentality as you're approaching the tackle and in the play that you have to make. He certainly has it. That's why there's so few guys that are good at it. So he's very special."
Maxwell's forced fumble was just one play in a strong overall performance against Dallas that also saw him record five tackles and a pass defensed. Maxwell has now played in six games for the Seahawks, starting five, since signing after Richard Sherman went down with a ruptured Achilles, making himself an unlikely and valuable part of Seattle's defense less than three years after he left in free agency.
"I thought he had his best game," Carroll said. "I told the team that I thought he had played his best game for us since he has been back. He was just solid across the board and very aggressive in his coverage, tackled well, big turnover. He just looked like he was on it and he has been a terrific addition. Our ability to find him and John (Schneider)'s to get him in our locker room at the time when after losing Sherman was really a factor and fired up to see him play well."
After establishing himself as a regular starter in 2014, Maxwell was one of the NFL's top free agent cornerbacks, and he signed a lucrative multi-year deal with the Eagles in the 2015 offseason. After just one year in Philadelphia, Maxwell was traded to Miami, but the Dolphins released him after he played in only two games this season. Neither he nor the Seahawks could have seen it coming before this season, but Maxwell becoming a free agent a few weeks before Sherman suffered a season-ending injury led to an unexpected reunion, one that has been positive both for Maxwell and the Seahawks.
"It feels good," Maxwell said of being back in Seattle. "I'm happy to be back, everything's pretty much the same. Pete keeps everything the same, his message is always clear—compete and it's all about the ball, those two things. The faces change, but the message is the same. Everything's good. It's fun being back. We're out here trying to win championships, and it's not like that everywhere else. For whatever reason, we love to win here, so that's always better when you come in Monday and it's a win. Yeah, you're getting paid, but you still want to be great and succeed at what you're doing."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' 21-12 win over the Dallas Cowboys during Week 16 at AT&T Stadium.