Seattle Seahawks

A switch, or just a cold? Tharold Simon a surprise starter for Byron Maxwell at cornerback

It may prove to be the start of a changing of the guard at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.

Or it could end up being that Byron Maxwell just has a cold.

Fifteen minutes before kickoff, oft-injured, 2013 fifth-round draft pick Tharold Simon got the news he would start opposite Sherman for the Seahawks.

Under normal circumstances, that would not be such big news — it has been known for a while that the second-year man from Louisiana State could very well be the heir apparent as Maxwell’s four-year, $2.15 million contract expires at the end of this season.

But in the NFC divisional playoff game?

That was rather large.

“I feel like I did pretty solid — except for the two touchdowns,” Simon said.

Cam Newton and the Carolina offense did not hesitate to go after Simon’s side of the field. On first downs. On third downs. And, yes, for both of Carolina’s touchdowns, 7 yards to rookie Kelvin Benjamin in front of Simon inside the goal line that made it 7-7 in the second quarter, and 15 yards when Benjamin got behind him with 2:34 left in the game.

“I thought he played pretty well,” Sherman said. “In this league, it’s just a matter of inches and footwork. That’s what it was for him.”

Yes, Simon said he felt picked on.

“The first half, I was kind of down on myself for missing two tackles,” Simon said. “(The other defensive backs) picked me back up, and it was, ‘Go from there.’ ”

Maxwell missed much of the game because of shortness of breath after battling a week-long illness — coach Pete Carroll described it as “chest complications with the cold that he had.”

Maxwell did play on the punt-return team. And he was on the sideline to greet Simon after every defensive series.

“We were talking all the time — every time after he came off,” Maxwell said. “We’d go over corrections …

“He played solid. He stood up.”

Carroll said it was Maxwell’s health and not necessarily a change in the depth chart for next week, too.

“Byron just didn’t feel well enough,” Carroll said. “We thought he would come out of it. He was sick during the week. He just didn’t feel well enough to contribute on a steady basis so he participated on special teams, and he was available to us if we needed him in the nickel (as a fifth defensive back on passing downs).

“But, really, he just didn’t feel well, at all.”

STEWART COMES HOME

The game and the stage was bigger, but in many ways, it was the same Jonathan Stewart fans watched a decade ago as a dominant high school running back.

Stewart, a 2005 Timberline High School graduate who set the state’s all-time rushing record in the fall of ’04 with 7,755 career yards and returns to Lacey every summer to host his free youth football camp, rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries, his first game in Seattle since 2010 when he ran for 92 yards on 21 carries (one touchdown) in a 31-14 loss during the regular season.

The past five weeks, Stewart has revived his career; his 524 yards rushing yards entering Saturday were the second-highest of any NFL running back, but being able to play was something to celebrate.

The past three seasons, Stewart has missed 20 games because of injuries, including three earlier this season (sprained knee). Stewart’s emergence came once his health improved and able to hit his stride as a primary ball-carrier when DeAngelo Williams suffered a broken hand.

“Going into this season, my mindset was to get back into the rhythm and be back into this offense in the biggest way possible,” Stewart said.

WANNA BE AT THE NFC TITLE GAME?

Tickets for the Seahawks’ NFC championship game next Sunday will go sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the CenturyLink Field Northwest box office. Approximately 1,200 tickets will be available to the public. Fans may purchase a limit of two tickets per person.

The Seahawks’ opponent won’t be known until after this Sunday’s Dallas at Green Bay divisional playoff.

Ninety-eight percent of season-ticket members reserved their playoff tickets. A lottery will be conducted for Blue Pride season-ticket wait-list members Monday. Winning members will be notified by email Monday.

EXTRA POINTS

Carroll said rookie WR Paul Richardson sprained his knee in the second quarter. He didn’t return. “A knee that he’s had worked on before,” Carroll said. “So we’ll see. We’re not sure (if Richardson can play next week). But he’s pretty sore, it looks like.” … Carroll said C Max Unger, who left with 3 minutes left after missing six games with a high-ankle sprain, “did roll his ankle a little bit, the same one he had injured. He felt pretty good once he got into the locker room. So maybe it’s just a scare. We’ll see. We don’t know.” … Washington Governor Jay Inslee attended the game, watching from a suite.

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