Safety Tyrann Mathieu signals for fourth down after a Cardinals' stop during Sunday's 12-7 win.
The Cardinals needed a stop.
And then another. And another.
That was the fourth quarter Sunday against first-place Tennessee but also the rest of the game, and the Cardinals couldn't have played it better defensively. Tramon Williams short-circuited a drive with an interception. Josh Bynes set up a touchdown with another pick. And at the end, whether it was Hasson Reddick delivering a sack or pass breakups by Budda Baker or Tyrann Mathieu, the Titans were toast.
"I love it for our players," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said, after the Cardinals pitched a second-half shutout in a 12-7 win at University of Phoenix Stadium. "These guys have never flinched, continued to work hard, good men. We have been so close in so many situations to making the plays that we made today.
"I didn't do a dang thing today. It was all these guys, and I was on the sideline, and I loved it. These guys don't quit."
It was necessary, since the Cardinals (6-7) couldn't do much offensively themselves, getting only four Phil
Dawson field goals as the totality of their scoring output. Their 261 yards the worst showing other than the 194 yards (and no points) the Cards got against the Rams in London.
No matter. The Titans (8-5), who fall to second place in the AFC South, did less. Tennessee, playing in University of Phoenix Stadium for the first time, gained only 204 yards and their lone score came on a touchdown drive of only 50 yards.
"You try to come out and dominate the opponent," Williams said. "They don't always fall the way you want it to go, but today I think we brought it."
There were things the Cardinals would like to be better. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was sacked eight times, and the passing game didn't produce much – although wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 44 yards on five catches to surpass Randy Moss for third all-time in NFL receiving yards.
"Everyone is going to say, 'That's an ugly win,' " coach Bruce Arians said. "There's no damn thing."
The Cardinals stuck with the run, gaining 136 yards and averaging 4.7 yards a carry, even with an absent Adrian Peterson and left tackle Jared Veldheer clearly favoring his elbow injury. They did have five field-goal attempts in the second half that provided the win, but it was the inability to get in the end zone that shifted the pressure to the defense.
"We fought and clawed and made plays when we had to," said Gabbert, who finished 17-for-26 for 178 but no turnovers. "You want to have touchdowns in the red zone, but some key field goals helped us. Our defense did a tremendous job."
The Cardinals had a third-and-1 at the Tennessee 1, and later in the game, a first-and-goal at the Tennessee 7 after the Bynes interception. Both times, the Cards had to settle for field goal. Had the Cards scored seven after the Bynes pick, with less than four minutes left, the resulting 16-7 lead might've been too much to overcome for the Titans.
"In this game, I've been in it seven years now, you never know when the end of the game is, really," Bynes said. "You just got to play each and every down and scenario and situation."
The next drive was sent sideways by the Reddick sack. And yet the Cards couldn't get a first down, giving
the Titans the ball one last time at their own 22 with 1:27 left. First down, a Mariota pass drifted incomplete. Second down, Baker broke up a near-catch by what looked like his foot. Third down, Williams – who had a pick earlier in the game – drilled tight end Delanie Walker and forced the ball to pop out. Fourth down, it was Mathieu.
The Titans rushed for only 65 yards. Mariota – who hurt his knee early in the game when he ran and was hit by safety Antoine Bethea – could only throw for 159 yards with the two picks.
"I feel like we always play for each other," said linebacker Chandler Jones, who got his 14th sack of the season and three more tackles for loss. "When the defense isn't there, the offense is there to pick us up. … You have to work together in all phases."
The Cardinals might not make the postseason, but they hurt both the Jaguars and Titans, AFC South competitors who lost in Arizona. The Titans' loss Sunday puts them a game back for the division, and it made Arians 7-1 all-time against the AFC South since coming to the Cardinals.
"I wish we played (the AFC South) every week," Arians said.
Images of the Week 14 matchup at home with Tennessee