Falcons Beat Bucs, 45-24, Clinch NFC’s No. 5 Seed

Julio Jones caught two touchdown passes in a span of 26 seconds, Michael Turner ran for two scores and the Falcons used a team-record 42 first-half points to cruise to a 45-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday to clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The Falcons (10-6) and Detroit (10-6) are the NFC wild cards. Atlanta, which beat Detroit on Oct. 23, won the tiebreaker with the Lions for the more favorable seeding. The Falcons will play at the winner of Sunday night’s Dallas-New York Giants game in the first round of the playoffs.

“We wanted to play our final regular-season game with a lot of intensity and energy, and I think we did that in all three phases,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Josh Freeman threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the first half as the Buccaneers (4-12) closed their season with their 10th straight loss, leaving the status of coach Raheem Morris in doubt.

The Falcons led 42-0 when it began resting some of its starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan and Turner, late in the first half.

Tampa Bay, which finished 10-6 last season and started 4-2 this season, is left with its longest losing streak in one season in 34 years. The Buccaneers also lost 10 straight in 1977. They lost 11 straight between the 2008 and ’09 seasons.

Turnovers were a problem for the Buccaneers all season. Freeman began the day tied for the league lead with 19 interceptions before adding three to the dismal total, including one with 1:39 remaining.

Freeman completed 31 of 45 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

With Atlanta leading 42-0, Freeman threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Briscoe with about 2 minutes remaining in the first half. Freeman threw a 5-yard TD pass to Briscoe in the fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay’s other touchdown came on Elbert Mack’s 40-yard interception return against Falcons’ backup Chris Redman in the third quarter.

Turner ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard scoring run late in the first half. The score capped the Falcons’ run of six unanswered touchdowns.

The Falcons led 21-0 after the first quarter and then put the game away with three more touchdowns in the second quarter.

The strong showing was important for the Falcons, who were coming off a 45-16 loss at New Orleans that was the worst loss in four seasons with Smith.

“We had some things we needed to get fixed from the previous game and I’m really proud of the way the guys bounced back,” Smith said.

Ryan was 6 of 9 for 106 yards, including touchdown passes of 17 and 48 yards to Jones in the first quarter.

Rookie Jacquizz Rodgers scored on a 1-yard run for his first career touchdown to start the Falcons’ scoring. Rodgers lost a fumble at the Tampa Bay 2 in the fourth quarter.

After Ryan’s first TD pass to Jones, Dominique Franks’ interception on Tampa Bay’s first down gave the ball back to Atlanta.

On first down from the Buccaneers 48, Ryan again threw to Jones, who fought off safety Tanard Jackson for the catch. Jones then jumped up from the turf, hit cornerback E.J. Biggers with a stiff-arm and then dragged Biggers into the end zone.

Turner had two touchdown runs and Curtis Lofton returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Matt Bryant kicked a 20-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter after the Buccaneers were stopped on fourth down at their 10.

Turner’s two touchdowns gave him a team-record 50 rushing scores with the Falcons, passing Gerald Riggs’ record of 48.

Roddy White also celebrated a milestone, passing Terance Mathis for the most yards receiving with the Falcons. Mathis had 7,349 yards from 1994-2001. White began Sunday 44 yards behind Mathis and set the mark in the third quarter.

Bookmark and Share

Falcons Stake Claim to Best in NFC by Beating Bucs

ATLANTA. The Falcons hushed up Raheem Morris.

There’s no more talk about Tampa Bay being the best team in the NFC — at least for now.

Michael Turner ran for two early touchdowns and Atlanta made a gutty goal-line stand in the closing minutes to preserve a 27-21 victory Sunday, claiming sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

“Well, we can’t say we we’re the best team right now,” said Morris, the Buccaneers’ brash young coach. “We do not have the least amount of losses, so that would not be an accurate statement this week.”

Give the Bucs credit, though.

They fell behind 14-0 early on and came back. They trailed 27-14 late in the third quarter and made a game of it. If not for LeGarrette Blount getting stuffed by Thomas DeCoud on fourth-and-1 at the Falcons 2, Tampa Bay might have pulled out another close win.

“They play with a lot of heart and desire,” Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson said.

But it’s the Falcons (6-2) who now have the division lead all to themselves, one game ahead of the Buccaneers and the defending champion (both 5-3).

There’s not a lot of time to savor the key divisional win. The AFC North-leading (6-2) will be at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

“In college when we played on a Thursday night, it seemed like we had a bye the week before so we had ample time to prepare,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Obviously, they have a defense that does a lot of things and they have a lot of talented guys. We are going to have our work cut out for us.”

At least the Falcons are coming off a victory. Tampa Bay had a shot after a pass interference penalty on William Moore moved the ball deep into Atlanta territory. Three more plays later, the Bucs were a yard short of the first down and 2 yards from the end zone.

Josh Freeman faked a handoff to Ryan Purvis, a tight end lined up at fullback, and gave it to Blount for a run over right tackle. But DeCoud charged up to stuff the slow-developing play, and Coy Wire finished off Blount to make sure he couldn’t stretch out for the first down with second effort.

“I told the defensive line, ‘Get penetration, get penetration,’ and the guys in the back will come up to make the play,” linebacker Mike Peterson said.

That’s just what happened. The ball went over to the Falcons, who ran out the clock after Turner picked up the necessary first down with the last of his 24 carries. He finished with 107 yards, the fourth 100-yard performance in the past six games.

Morris, whose team went 3-13 a year ago, wasn’t in the mood to discuss moral victories or finding some good in the down-to-the-wire setback.

“There is no such thing as an encouraging loss. That is a mentally weak statement,” he said. “At the end of the year, there are wins and losses.”

During the week, the Falcons seemed both amused and motivated by Morris’ bold proclamations that his team was best in the conference. Afterward, they acknowledged that he made an already big contest even more fun.

“It’s good for the game,” Peterson said. “Some trash talking … that just put a little more icing on it.”

Freeman threw a pair of touchdown passes, the first of them set up by Micheal Spurlock’s 66-yard kickoff return. Then Spurlock took it all the way to the end zone, bringing back another kickoff for an 89-yard touchdown.

The Falcons thoroughly dominated much of the game and Freeman — who had been doing a good job not turning the ball over — had a pair of interceptions. The Falcons didn’t have any turnovers, marking the first time all season the Bucs gave it away more than their opponent.

Turner scored on runs of 2 and 10 yards to stake the Falcons to a 14-0 lead. Freeman cut the gap to 17-14 by halftime with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Arrelious Benn and a 58-yarder to Mike Williams.

On the third play of the second half, Freeman threw a wobbly pass under pressure from Kroy Biermann and it landed right in the arms of defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. That set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Palmer, the first career score for the undrafted rookie. Matt Bryant added his second field goal, pushing the Falcons ahead 27-14.

The ensuing kickoff landed between Spurlock and Maurice Stovall in an apparent mix-up. But Spurlock picked up the bouncing ball at the 11, slipped through a hole, somehow stayed inbound when kicker Michael Koenen took a dive at him along the sideline and streaked the rest of the way for the touchdown that again made a game of it.

Trying to seize on that momentum, Tampa Bay appeared to get the ball back when kicker Connor Barth recovered an onside attempt. But the Falcons challenged, and the replay showed that the ball touched Barth’s left knee just before it covered the necessary 10 yards.

At the end, the Bucs came up just short again.

“We lost by a yard,” rookie Gerald McCoy said. “That’s what this league is about.”

Bookmark and Share