By Associated Press
Michael Turner and the Falcons didn’t want to settle for just making the playoffs.
They wanted momentum and the best seed possible.
Hoping for a fast start, the Falcons set a team record with 42 first-half points, including two touchdown runs by Turner, and Atlanta cruised to a 45-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 1 to clinch the No. 5 seed.
Julio Jones caught two touchdown passes in a span of 26 seconds in the first quarter as the Falcons gave the Buccaneers their 10th straight loss.
“We didn’t want to come down to the wire, backing into the playoffs,” Turner said.
The Falcons were motivated by two blowout losses – 48-21 to Green Bay in last year’s playoffs and 45-16 at New Orleans last week.
“Getting embarrassed like that last year, that’s not who we were,” Turner said. “We just wanted another chance.”
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 (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 New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs.
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.
The Falcons led 42-0 when they began resting some starters, including quarterback Matt
Ryan was 6-of-9 for 106 yards, including touchdown passes of 17 and 48 yards to Jones in the first quarter.
Turnovers were a problem for the Buccaneers all season. Freeman began the day tied for the league lead with 19 interceptions before completing 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.
The Falcons led 21-0 after the first quarter and then put the game away with three more touchdowns in the second 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.