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Cardinals’ victory over Titans won’t win any beauty contests, but that’s OK

Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Haason Reddick, left, brings down Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals defeated the Titans 12-7. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Tennessee Titans have been described as a “dump truck.” Their 8-4 record had been called a mirage by some critics who pointed to their negative point differential.

Their M.O. this season has been winning ugly. Turns out they can lose ugly, too.

The Arizona Cardinals got four second-half field goals from Phil Dawson, contained Tennessee’s running game and generally made life hard on Marcus Mariota in a less-than-beautiful 12-7 win Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I know what everybody’s going to say, that this was an ugly win,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians announced at the top of his postgame press conference. “There’s no such thing.”

He’s right. The ugly ones count just the same in the standings as the flawless ones — and the Cardinals have racked up their fair share of ducklings this year. They had to go overtime to beat both Indianapolis and San Francisco. They held on for dear life to grab a win over a hard-charging Tampa Bay team.

But Sunday’s was a little different in that the Cardinals beat the Titans at their own game. It was Mike Mularkey’s team that was supposed to come to Glendale and grind out a win, but they had the tables turned on them.

Tennessee (8-5) grabbed a lead in the second quarter. After a short punt from Arizona’s Andy Lee gave the Titans a short field, they cashed in. Derrick Henry capped a 50-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run midway through the period.

That would be the last time the scoreboard would change on the Titans’ side.

Dawson connected from 47 and 23 yards in the third quarter to pull the Cardinals to within a point. Dawson would then miss a 40-yard attempt early in the fourth that would have given the Cardinals their first lead.

Earlier in the season, a missed field goal might send Arizona into a tailspin. That didn’t happen Sunday. The Cardinals forced a three-and-out and then drove down the field for another Dawson make — this one from 32 yards to make it 9-7 Arizona.

On Tennessee’s next drive, linebacker Josh Bynes read Mariota’s eyes and picked off a first-down pass, returning it to the Tennessee 15-yard line. A late hit penalty gave Arizona a first down at the Titans’ 7-yard line. They didn’t punch it into the end zone, but Dawson hit from 35 yards to make it 12-7

The defense would do the rest.

The Titans managed just four yards in their last three possessions.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the character of the men in that locker room,” Arians said. “We’ve never lost two in a row at home in five years, and very seldom have we lost two in a row (overall) because of the character that’s in that room.”

Character isn’t quantifiable. But shutting down an opponent is.

“It feels really good,” outside linebacker Chandler Jones said. “Our defense really stepped it up, buying into what the coaches are preaching and guys were just making plays.”

Jones sacked Mariota once and had him in his grasp on several other occasions.

“I think I have to work on that,” he said. “Once I get free, I have to break down and lower my center of gravity.”

The sack he did get was his 14th of the season, a new career-high for one of the league’s best pass rushers.

Olsen Pierre and Haason Reddick each registered sacks. Tramon Williams had an interception and three passes defensed. It was a total team effort.

“I think we’ve been doing that the last several weeks on defense, and a lot of times this season,” Bynes said. “The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted, but definitely defensively we’ve held the last three or four opponents under 100 yards (rushing) and that’s always a plus.”

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