Opportunity knocks, Byron Maxwell soars for Seahawks

Former Clemson cornerback has three interceptions in the past two weeks, including two Sunday against Eli Manning

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell (41) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell (41) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The 2013 season has presented a series of challenges for Byron Maxwell.

First, as an NFL pro in the third year of a four-year initial deal, he'll soon be negotiating his all-important second contract.

Second, after two and a half seasons of steady but unspectacular play as a backup, he's been thrust into a starting role for a playoffs-bound team.

Third, his team just happens to field the NFL's No. 1 defense, which puts expectations for a cover-corner off the charts.

So far, the former Clemson standout is handling his pressure-packed season quite well.

Maxwell claimed a pair of Eli Manning's passes for his own on Sunday, and his two interceptions - his second and third in two weeks - helped the Seattle Seahawks shut out the New York Giants 23-0 at the Meadowlands.

Now 12-2, Seattle is closing in on the No. 1 seed for the NFL playoffs.

During the past three weeks, Maxwell has turned one of the team's few defensive question marks into a game-changing asset.

He was elevated into the starting lineup when the Seahawks lost Brandon Browner to injury and Walter Thurmond to suspension.

One of his teammates, safety Earl Thomas, says he has no doubt that Maxwell would rise to meet the challenge.

Thomas told the Seattle Times that he took Maxwell aside three weeks ago and told him this was his moment, and that he knew Maxwell would take his opportunity and run with it.

“Ask him,” Thomas said. “Go ask him. I guarantee he’ll tell you exactly what I’m saying. It’s crazy because you could see it. All he needed was confidence. Now he’s got it.”

“I guess he felt like I was there,” Maxwell said, “and he had confidence in me.”

On Sunday, the Giants decided to test Maxwell early and often. He made them pay a price.

“They came out the first play and threw at me,” Maxwell said. “So, yeah, they were coming at me.”

His first interception came on a deep route when he beat receiver Victor Cruz for the ball in the air.

Later in the game, Maxwell picked off a crossing route intended for Hakeem Nicks.

“He’s not just picking off go routes,” Thomas told the Times. “He’s taking everything away.”

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