Ugly at times, yes. Sometimes dull and painful to watch, ditto.
Effective and successful. Yes to that, too.
And for the Tennessee Titans, who dispensed with the Carolina Panthers 20-7 Sunday in typical smashmouth fashion, the only thing that matters is the bottom line: A 6-2 record at the halfway point for a team that now projects solidly into the middle of the AFC playoff picture.
The Titans again relied on defense to carry them to victory, pounding quarterback David Carr for seven sacks, limiting the Panthers to 191 yards of total offense and overcoming four turnovers of their own in the process.
“As long as you win, that momentum builds itself. One thing it does for us is helps us to bring our game up to par when it’s clutch time. Even though we’re not winning as pretty as we’d like to, we’re getting some experience in those clutch situations, and that’s good for us,” receiver Justin Gage said.
Gage should know — he spent last season with the Chicago Bears, who rode a stellar defense to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl berth, despite a myriad of offensive inconsistencies.
On Sunday, Tennessee’s offense actually showed signs of occasional life, marching 52 in 10 plays on the opening series and taking a quick 7-0 lead. Vince Young walked into the end zone from 3-yards away to cap the drive.
And with points so hard to come by for the Titans of late, the defense had to feel as it if was playing with house money against a Panthers offense that struggled to find any consistency.
The Titans slowed down Carolina’s rushing tandem of Deshaun Foster and D’Angelo Williams, holding them to 78 yards, shut down standout receiver Steve Smith, by holding him to 15 yards on three receptions and harassing quarterback David Carr in much the same way they did when he was a Houston Texan.
Tennessee’s seven sacks against Carr were the most by the team since 2005 against — you guessed it — David Carr. In 11 meetings against the Titans, Carr has been sacked 40 times in his career.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was the ringleader Sunday, with three sacks, as Tennessee totaled a dozen hits against Carr and eventually knocked him from the game in the fourth quarter.
“We wanted to stop the run and get after the quarterback,” Haynesworth said. “We knew Carr would see the rush. He’s always worried about us, and he knew this year that we were a lot better. We knew he was going to be extra scared or worried about us.
“He held the ball a real long time, so it gave us a chance to get there. I appreciate him holding the ball so long to help us out here.”
Carr left the field impressed with Tennessee, especially the defensive performance.
“This is a good team,” Carr said. “It is definitely the best defense we have played all year.”
While the Tennessee defense dominated, the Titans offense managed a pair of Rob Bironas field goals in the first half that pushed the lead to 13-0.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Titans pushed across their second touchdown, on LenDale White’s 1-yard run that capped a 13-play, 86-yard march and put the game out of reach at 20-0.
White finished with 100 yards on a career-high 31 carries, his third straight 100-yard rushing performance.
“I felt like the offensive line was getting a great push,” White said. “All they had to do was look for a seam and go to work.”
The two touchdown drives helped squelch some of the issues the offense has had in recent weeks, but Vince Young still was plagued by two interceptions, White lost a fumble and punt returner Chris Davis lost the football as well. Amazingly, the Titans have six wins and only three touchdown passes.
But with the Tennessee defense in total control and narrowly missing its first shutout since 2000, the Titans accomplished their primary goal on Sunday — getting to 6-2.
“It’s such a long season in that it’s 16 games and however you get them you have to take them,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “We’re 6-2, so obviously we’re doing a lot of things right. I don’t think we’ve put together a complete football game, but we’re doing things right.”
Added safety Chris Hope, whose interception against Matt Moore iced the game for the Titans, “We’ll take it any way we can get it. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about — winning. … We’re growing confident in each other, and once you feel how good that win feels, you get used to it, and everybody wants it.”