Big Red Recap: Cardinals grind out win over Titans behind stout defense
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It wasn’t easy. Then again nothing has come easy for the Arizona Cardinals here in 2017.
But it was a victory, and the Cardinals certainly won’t apologize for that, especially considering how few times they’ve added to the win column this season.
Four Phil Dawson field goals in the second half were all they needed.
The Cardinals beat the Tennessee Titans, 12-7, in front of a sold-out crowd and under an open roof at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.
It snapped a two-game losing streak.
While the offense struggled to find the end zone, the Cardinals’ defense and special teams stepped up.
The Cardinals forced two turnovers, a pair of interceptions by Tramon Williams and Josh Bynes. That unit also held a very good Titans running game to just 65 rushing yards, 10 yards in the second half.
Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota was 16-of-31 for 159 yards.
The Titans (8-5) had won straight.
Neither team scored in the first quarter and the Cardinals (6-7) trailed 7-0 at halftime.
In the second half, the home team woke up.
And though there was not a touchdown scored by Arizona, its offense put Dawson in field goal position five times. He made four.
The Cardinals also found success running the football, rushing for 104 of their 136 yards — Kerwynn Williams had 73 yards — over the last two quarters.
Blaine Gabbert performed better, too. He was 10-of-12 for 122 yards in the second half and finished 17-of-26 for 178 yards. The only negative: He was sacked eight times.
Of the Cardinals’ six wins, half have come now against the AFC South.
No one is better at tackling the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage than Chandler Jones. Twice he wrapped up Titans running back Derrick Henry for a loss — of two and four yards, respectively — in the first quarter. Entering the game, Jones led the league with 21 tackles for loss, while his 36 TFLs since 2016 were the most of any player during this stretch.
Also, there are very few who have had more success at sacking the quarterback than Jones in 2017. His second-quarter takedown of Mariota was No. 14, the most in franchise history through 13 games. In addition, Jones has at least one sack in 11 of 13 games this season, and in 20 of 29 games played since joining the Cardinals.
With his 23-yard third-quarter catch, Larry Fitzgerald passed Randy Moss (15,292) for third place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list. Only Jerry Rice (22,895) and Terrell Owens (15,934) rank ahead of Fitzgerald. His catch helped put the Cardinals in field goal range. Dawson kicked a 47-yarder to make it 7-3 at the 9:36 mark of the third quarter.
Coming out of the locker room, Gabbert threw the ball much, much better. He completed his first eight pass attempts (108 yards), which was one more than he completed the entire first half, when he went 7-of-14 for 56 yards. Of those eight completions, three went for 20+ yards, the longest of which was that 23-yard pass to Fitzgerald.
A poor punt (33 yards) gave the Titans excellent starting field position on their first possession of the second quarter. And they took advantage. From midfield, the Titans ran nine plays, scoring on the ninth play with Henry running it in from six yards out for a 7-0 lead at the 7:16 mark. Henry carried the ball six times for 18 yards in the first half.
Once on each of the Cardinals’ first four possessions of the first half, the Titans recorded a sack of Gabbert. Those that got their hands on the quarterback were Jurrell Casey, Johnathan Cyprien, David King and Erik Walden. Cyprien had a team-high four tackles at halftime. The Titans entered the game with 12 sacks in the past two weeks.
Another missed field goal. That’s eight now for Dawson, who was wide right on a 40-yard attempt that would’ve put the Cardinals in front early in the fourth quarter. Dawson appeared to be run into, but there was no flag thrown by any of the officials. Of the eight misses, which ties a career-high, five have come from 40 yards or less.
STAT OF THE GAME
136: Against the league’s No. 3 rushing defense (86.2), the Cardinals gained 136 yards on the ground; it’s their third-highest total of the season and third straight game topping the century mark.
HE SAID IT
“It’s very hard to come in here and run the ball. Your quarterback is going to have to beat us,” said head coach Bruce Arians, who improved to 4-0 all-time vs. Titans, including his time as an interim head coach with Indianapolis.
– Fitzgerald has caught at least one pass in 208 straight games, the NFL’s third-longest streak.
– Gabe Martin exited the field with a hamstring injury early in the first quarter and did not return.
– With the victory, the Cardinals improved to 9-1 at home versus AFC opponents under Arians.
– With the victory, the Cardinals improved to 7-1 versus the AFC South division under Arians.
– With the victory, the Cardinals improved to 16-12 all-time with the roof open at their stadium.
– With the victory, the Cardinals have wins over 28 of the 31 other NFL franchises in Glendale.
– The Cardinals won the coin and deferred for the third straight week and fourth time this year.
– Among the Cardinals’ listed inactives included John Brown (toe) and Adrian Peterson (neck).
– The Cardinals had not played three consecutive home games in a single season since 2011.
Time to hit the road.
For the first time since Week 11, the Cardinals will play somewhere other than University of Phoenix Stadium. They travel to Washington to face the Redskins on Sunday, Dec. 17. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.
This will be the 124th meeting between the former NFC East rivals.
The Cardinals have not won in the nation’s capital since 1988, losing their last seven visits, including most recently in 2011.
The past two matchups have both seen the Cardinals come out on top. They won last season’s meeting, 31-23, in Arizona.
Overall, the Cardinals trail 46-75-2 in a series that dates back to 1932.