RENTON, Wash. — Early in his first stint with the Seattle Seahawks, Byron Maxwell made a realization. With all the talent in Seattle’s secondary, he felt he needed something unique added to his game if he was going to find a way onto the field.
So he figured out a way to bring a bit of a punch — literally — to his game.
“It was one of my ways of staying on the field,” Maxwell said. “We had a lot of competition when I started getting on the field — Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner — I was like, ‘I’ve got to stay on the field, so let me think of ways besides interceptions to stay on the field.’ That was just one of the ways.”
Now in his second stint with the Seahawks, Maxwell has again become a relied-upon starter for Seattle. And last week against Dallas, what has become one of Maxwell’s moves resurfaced and became a game-changing moment.
Maxwell punched the ball — literally — free from the hands of Dez Bryant during the second quarter of Seattle’s 21-12 win. The turnover was a significant momentum swing for the Seahawks, who forced three turnovers against the Cowboys and won handily despite doing very little on offense.
It’s not easy what Maxwell pulled off because it’s more than just ripping at the ball carrier. Maxwell specifically punches at the ball. It worked famously in the Super Bowl against Denver when he punched the ball free from Demaryius Thomas as part of Seattle’s 43-8 rout of the Broncos. And it worked again last week on Bryant.
Since Maxwell entered the league in 2011, he has 11 forced fumbles, the third-most of any cornerback.
“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,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He certainly has it. That’s why there are so few guys that are good at it.”
Maxwell said former Seattle defensive assistant Rocky Seto was key in teaching him some of the trick to making his unique way of trying to free the ball successful. He watched hours of tape of Charles Tillman’s technique for punching the ball out. Tillman had 44 forced fumbles in his career, the most for any cornerback dating to 1993.
What also stands out about Maxwell is his ability to take the chance at punching the ball free without surrendering a possible tackle. He said it’s not always worked that way and specifically noted times during his one season in Philadelphia when it backfired. But in Seattle, he feels comfortable taking those risks because he knows help is coming.
“The ball is everything. Why not take a chance?” Maxwell said. “Plus, I feel like we’ve got guys rallying to the ball so I can take a lot more shots at the ball and they’re going to have my back.”
Even though Maxwell has only been back in Seattle for the past six games, he’s returned to being a starter and fell right back in with Seattle’s style of defense. And some of the new Seahawks have started to pick up on Maxwell’s unique approach.
“That’s an example I definitely will use and something I want to definitely get better at,” Seattle rookie CB Shaquill Griffin said. “Going for the ball, punching it out, you don’t get it every time but the more you do it, the more opportunities you have to get it out.”