Cardinals see beauty in defensive victory over Titans


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For the 2017 Cardinals, victories are like grandchildren. They’re beautiful if they belong to you.

To most of us, there was almost nothing attractive about the Cardinals’ 12-7 victory over the Titans on Sunday. They didn’t score a touchdown and gained only 64 yards in the first half. Their quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, was sacked eight times, and when he remained upright, he often missed open receivers.

But when it’s December and you’ve won only five games, it’s easy to embrace a sixth.

“I know what everybody is going to say: ‘It’s an ugly win,’ ” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “There is no damn thing. No such thing.”

Arians is at least half right. The defensive performance was smooth and pretty, almost without a blemish. The Titans (8-5) rushed for 65 yards, about half their average, and quarterback Marcus Mariota passed for only 159 yards and had two throws intercepted.

The Titans’ only score came in the second quarter after they took over at the Cardinals’ 50-yard line.

“I don’t remember too many times in my time here anybody has run the ball in this stadium on us,” Arians said. “If you want to try to come in and run the ball, go ahead. Your quarterback is going to have to beat us.”

Mariota wasn’t up to the job. He was erratic all day and both interceptions came in the second half. The first, by cornerback Tramon Williams, ended a promising drive. The second, by linebacker Josh Bynes, came in the fourth quarter on the first play after the Cardinals had taken their first lead, 9-7.

That resulted in another Cardinals field goal, and the defense shut the Titans down twice in the final four minutes to seal the victory.

“Our biggest thing was not letting him (Mariota) get in the groove and we did a good job of that,” said outside linebacker Chandler Jones, who had a sack and three tackles for loss.

With nothing working on the ground or the air, the Titans needed their defense to dominate. It did in the first half, but the Cardinals gained 197 yards in the second half, including 104 rushing.

But they couldn’t get in the end zone. The Cardinals (6-7) didn’t commit a turnover, but were kicking themselves afterward for not making big plays that were available.

The most notable came in the fourth quarter on third and 6 from the Titans’ 14. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald made a great fake inside and broke out, leaving cornerback Logan Ryan a few yards behind. Gabbert overthrew Fitzgerald in the end zone, ruining a chance to take a 13-7 lead.

“That would have been a nice little touchdown there,” Gabbert said. “There are going to be some things on the film that I need to correct but that’s a lot easier to do when you get a win.”

That incomplete pass ended the Cardinals’ best offensive series of the game. The possession started with rookie receiver Chad Williams taking a reverse around the right side for 33 yards.

Arians had another play called but said to himself, “What the hell, it’s time for this one.”

It was the only time Williams touched the ball on Sunday.

“It’s either going to be a 5-yard loss or a big gain,” Arians said, “and we needed a spark.”

It gave the Cardinals one. Once in Titans territory, Gabbert correctly identified a blitz coming, and tossed to running back Elijhaa Penny, who gained 18 yards.

Then came the missed pass to Fitzgerald, a field goal by Phil Dawson and the Bynes interception which led to Dawson’s fourth and final field goal.

If a 12-7 lead can be insurmountable, this one was.

“I give them (the Cardinals) kudos,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “Their safeties are very aggressive. They blitzed them a lot. I don’t think we did a good enough job blocking them to be honest with you. They were going to try to stop the run. That was their whole intent with those guys. They pretty much succeeded.”

The Cardinals haven’t been eliminated from the playoffs, although to their credit, they don’t bring it up in conversation much. They seemed to be heeding Arians’ admonition to concentrate on the week’s work and let someone else do that math.

“Guys care, it matters to them,” said Fitzgerald, who passed Randy Moss into third place in career receiving yards. “You saw that today. There was some ugly football out there from time to time, but guys never hung their heads. We stayed in it.”

BICKLEY: Another ugly victory underscores Cardinals’ dilemma at quarterback

RELATED: Report card: Defense receives straight A’s in win over Titans

MORE: Star watch: Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones star in win over Titans

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