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(Sunday, January 1st)
Final Score: Atlanta 45, Tampa Bay 24
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Michael Turner ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and the Falcons scored the first 42 points against the Buccaneers to capture the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 45-24 victory.
The outcome, coupled with the Lions' loss to the Packers earlier Sunday, means Atlanta avoided a first-round matchup against the New Orleans Saints and will play the winner of the NFC East - the New York Giants next Sunday at 1 p.m. (et).
The Falcons (10-6) were crushed by the Saints on Monday, 45-16, and took out their frustrations in a one-sided regular season finale.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan played less than two quarters and completed 6-of-9 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns, both to Julio Jones.
Josh Freeman ended a disappointing season on a sour note, committing four turnovers to increase his season total to 27. The third-year quarterback had just nine turnovers in a 10-win campaign in 2010, but Tampa Bay (4-12) ended this season on a 10-game losing streak, its longest skid since 1977.
The downward spiral calls into question the job security of Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who took questions on his future after the loss.
"If I was in the business of worried about my future I wouldn't be coaching," said Morris. "I'm going to work until they tell me to stop."
Atlanta got the rout started early, converting three third-down chances on its first possession. Jacquizz Rodgers capped the 12-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard plunge over the goal line.
After a three-and-out, the Falcons drove right down the field and scored when Jones caught a short pass at the 10-yard line and broke a tackle en route to a 17-yard touchdown with 3:30 remaining in the opening quarter.
Jones scored again two plays later.
Following Dominique Franks' interception of Freeman at the Tampa Bay 48-yard line, Ryan lofted one up for Jones on the ensuing play. The rookie wideout juggled the ball as he went to the ground at the 13-yard line, got up before he was touched and stiff-armed his way into the end zone.
John Abraham's strip-sack of Freeman later in the first stanza led to Turner's one-yard touchdown run, and Curtis Lofton took an interception back 26 yards for a commanding 35-0 lead not even five minutes into the second quarter.
"We started the way we wanted," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "We played good, sound solid football in the first half."
Turner reeled off an 81-yard touchdown run midway through the frame before Dezmon Briscoe's two-yard TD catch before the two-minute warning finally got the Bucs on the board.
In the third quarter, Tampa Bay's Connor Barth kicked a 41-yard field goal, and Elbert Mack picked off Falcons backup Chris Redman and returned the interception 40 yards for a touchdown.
Briscoe added a five-yard touchdown reception early in a fourth-quarter that got a little chippy between the NFC South rivals.
Matt Bryant capped the scoring with a 20-yard field goal.
Atlanta finished with 10-plus wins in consecutive years for the first time in team history...Before the game, tight end Tony Gonzalez signed a one-year contract extension with the Falcons...Ryan set the Falcons record for passing yards in a season with 4,177...Atlanta's Roddy White caught four passes to reach the 100-catch plateau for the second straight season...The Bucs edged the Falcons, 16-13, in Week 3...Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber, who started his 199th consecutive game, suffered a right hand injury during the loss...This was Tampa Bay's longest one-season skid since losing the first 12 games in 1977...Tampa Bay hasn't recorded a victory in Atlanta since 2007...Freeman finished with 274 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-45 throws.
01/01 23:50:38 ET
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