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Originally published Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:01 PM

What the Seahawks gleaned from Monday night win

Cornerback Richard Sherman's penalty for taunting and Doug Baldwin's heroics among lessons Seahawks learned in victory over Rams.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There's a fine line between aggressive and reckless.

Seattle's rookie cornerback Richard Sherman didn't straddle that line on Monday so much as attempted to ride a unicycle down the middle of it, leaving him vulnerable to veering off to either side.

That was the first of several lessons drawn from Seattle's return to "Monday Night Football" against the Rams, a game that inspired as many questions as it answered. Here's our attempt to make sense of it.

I. Three things we learned

1) Richard Sherman's aggressiveness is a double-edged sword. It's the reason he has stepped into a starting spot as a rookie and actually improved Seattle's level of play at left cornerback. If he was a first-round pick, you'd be thrilled with the results so far, and he was actually chosen in the fifth. But there's an underside to his aggressiveness, too. Of the nine penalties levied against Seattle on Monday, four were against Sherman, who must find a way to avoid penalties while retaining that physical style of play. The easiest starting point? When you make a play on a guy in the end zone on third down, don't stand over him and woof at him until the official feels obligated to throw a flag for taunting. That's what's called an "avoidable penalty."

2) Rookie receiver Doug Baldwin might have an "S" on that chest. Not only has he caught 45 passes — third-most among all rookies — but in the first five minutes of Monday's game he returned the opening kickoff 37 yards, downed a punt at the St. Louis 6 and blocked a punt that fullback Michael Robinson returned 17 yards for a touchdown. Baldwin is not going to break the franchise's record for receptions by a rookie, set by Joey Galloway with 67, but Baldwin has been the biggest boon to Seattle's offense this season.

3) Seattle is deeper than it was a year ago. That was evident when Seattle lost cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond to season-ending injuries in back-to-back weeks, only to have Sherman step in and excel. Now, it's the offensive line, which lost three starters over its past four games and still has managed to rush for more than 100 yards as a team six games running. You can't say the line is playing better this week than it was before the injuries, but it hasn't plunged off the deep end, either, which is a real compliment. The Seahawks have 13 players on injured reserve, which was tied for third-most in the league entering last week's games, and still Seattle is getting better as the year progresses.

II. Three things we're still trying to figure out

1) How in the world could no NFL team give Brandon Browner a shot the past four years? There are more than 2,500 NFL roster spots available during training camp, and how a team didn't decide Browner was worth at least a look in the previous four years is stupefying. Browner has at least one interception for the third consecutive game, the franchise's longest streak since Darryl Williams' three-game run in 1997. Browner's five interceptions are the most by a Seattle cornerback since Marcus Trufant intercepted seven passes in 2007 and went to the Pro Bowl.

2) Would dynamite loosen Seattle's goal-line defense? Probably, but you can't be sure. Not after Monday night, when the Rams had to run eight plays from the Seattle 1-yard line before finally punching it into the end zone. That's right, eight. Seattle stopped St. Louis twice in the third quarter, knocking the Rams backward before forcing a field-goal attempt. In the fourth quarter, St. Louis needed six cracks from the Seattle 1 before finally scoring.

3) Was there any significance to Matt Barkley attending Monday's game? Probably not. USC's quarterback has a girlfriend who attends Seattle Pacific University, and according to the Seahawks, he wasn't the team's guest at the game. Barkley hasn't officially entered the draft, and even if he had, you have to draft players into the league, not recruit them. So what if Pete Carroll recruited Barkley to USC when he coached the Trojans? That doesn't mean he can talk him into Seattle. Barkley still would have to be available when the Seahawks choose.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @dannyoneil

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