The 13th Man
Winning in the NFL has more to do with survival than it does talent. The best teams in the league are only as good as the guys on the bottom of the depth chart who you’ve never heard of, who get called on when injuries and suspensions transform rosters in midseason. They’re the guys who find themselves covering Michael Crabtree or Anquan Boldin in the NFC Championship Game, and sometimes they make the difference between winning and losing.
For the Seahawks, Byron Maxwell is that guy. And he’s one of the many reasons I believe we’ll not only survive, but also dominate on our way to the Super Bowl.
The week of our first game against San Francisco in Week 2, my now-suspended Pro Bowl teammate Brandon Browner was out with a hamstring injury. More-than-capable corners Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond would replace him on the right side, but I felt I needed to step up. With Crabtree out for the Niners, I requested to shadow Anquan Boldin with the intent of shutting him down. One week after catching 12 balls in a win, Boldin finished with one catch, and we won 29-3.
Ten weeks later, Maxwell—who was drafted two rounds after me in 2011 and has been my roommate ever since—was starting for the first time in place of Browner against the Saints here in Seattle. We suited up and the 12th man had our ears ringing. He came over to me, jumping up and down, and said, “Man, I’m feeling good.” I said, “Let’s go make a play.” Early on, Brees tried to throw a wheel route to Jimmy Graham and Maxwell peeled off his receiver and broke it up. He celebrated; he turned up.
That’s when I really knew we wouldn’t miss a beat with Maxwell in the lineup.
You see, when you’re an inexperienced cornerback playing against the best quarterbacks in the NFL, you know you’re going to get picked on. And there are two ways you can go about it: You can be nervous. You’ll wonder how you’re going to react. Guys ask themselves: What am I going to do if the ball comes? What happens if they keep catching balls on me?
Or you can go in there and say: I understand what they want to do on first down, second down and third down. I understand their concepts, their plays and their formations. I’m going to be aggressive and put myself in a position to make plays. That’s the mentality that Maxwell has. Like Earl Thomas always says, Maxwell gets “lost in the game.”
That kind of hard-headed, singular thought is what separates great players from good players. Throughout each of our careers, we have our abilities questioned one way or another. Maxwell came into the NFL stiff—literally. He couldn’t touch his toes while standing. So he took up hot yoga and has been dedicated to it for three years. He even finds a way to do it in road cities. Sometimes before he goes to bed on the road he’ll do the poses right there in the room—Crouching Camel or whatever it's called. He’s proud of it. It got him through shin, hamstring and shoulder injuries that kept him off the field while I was able to earn a role. The way he feels about yoga is the way I feel about film study, because I know I’m not the best athlete playing corner in the NFL.
Maxwell is part of the reason we’ll survive this marathon season for one more week.
Everybody comes into this league with a weakness, just like each team enters the season with holes in its roster. The trick is turning those weaknesses into strengths. That’s what Byron Maxwell gave us.
At this point, he’s well-prepared, and he’s playing as well as any corner in the NFL. He understands that when you begin to change things because the stage is bigger and the lights are brighter, you start making mistakes. So he’ll approach the NFC championship the same way he approaches every game.
It’s the reason I won’t be asking to shadow any one player when the 49ers come here Sunday, and it’s part of the reason we’ll survive this marathon season for one more week.