The Atlanta Falcons scored touchdowns the first five times they possessed the ball and added a defensive score to take a 42-7 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into halftime on Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.
Matt Ryan completed six of nine passes for 106 yards and two scores, both to rookie WR Julio Jones, before being relieved by Chris Redman just before halftime. RB Michael Turner added 172 yards on 17 carries, including an 81-yard jaunt for his second touchdown of the first half. LB Curtis Lofton made the score 35-0 in the second quarter with a 26-yard interception return off Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman.
Freeman directed an 80-yard touchdown drive before halftime to put the Buccaneers on the scoreboard, completing a 48-yard strike to WR Preston Parker and a two-yard scoring pass to WR Dezmon Briscoe. Freeman completed 12 of 16 passes for 97 yards but was sacked twice, intercepted twice and pressured on almost every drop-back. He got little help from a Tampa Bay running game that gained just 16 yards on seven carries.
Though Ryan left the game after building a comfortable lead, the Falcons found they still had something to play for as the afternoon developed. The Green Bay Packers scored late in their regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions to win 45-41, which meant Atlanta could still claim the #5 seed in the NFC playoffs with a victory. Taking that spot would allow the Falcons to avoid an opening-round return trip to New Orleans, where they lost 45-16 a week ago.
The Falcons won the toss and elected to receive. Michael Koenen, the former Falcon, easily drove the opening kickoff out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, putting the ball at Atlanta's 20. The Falcons wasted no time breaking off a big chunk of yardage, as Turner found a seam over right guard and exploited it for 26 yards. DT Frank Okam stopped turnover a yard behind the line on the next play. A short pass over the middle to Turner failed to connect, making it third-and-11, but Ryan converted that with a lob to WR Roddy White for 23 yards to the Bucs' 32. Jason Snelling's first-down run got five yards but rookie DE Da'Quan Bowers broke through to drop Turner for a loss of one on second down. Turner made it two-for-two on third downs by throwing over the middle to TE Tony Gonzalez, who faked an out and ran in for an eight-yard gain. Three plays later, the Falcons faced a shorter third down, needing just one yard, and they got this one with a simple power run over right tackle, making it first-and-goal at the nine. Turner took it down to the one on the next play and Rodgers got it in over left tackle on second down.
The Bucs came out with a jumbo lineup and ran Blount off right guard and left guard for the first two plays, but they gained only two each, and on third down Freeman was sacked by DE Kroy Biermann before he could properly set up for a throw.
That led to the Falcons' second drive starting just three yards shy of midfield. A safety blitz on first down led to Ryan scrambling right and eventually throwing incomplete but roughing-the-passer call on DE Michael Bennett moved the ball to the Bucs' 32 a play later. A draw play to Turner two plays later worked to the tune of 13 yards and a first down at the 21. The Bucs forced a third-and-six at the 17 but Ryan got a pass off under pressure, finding Jones over the middle for a 17-yard score.
The Bucs' second drive was even shorter, as a pump-and-go attempt to Briscoe turned into an interception at the Tampa Bay 47 by CB Dominique Franks. The Falcons immediately went up top, and Jones out-leaped S Tanard Jackson for the ball near the Bucs' 10. Jones landed on the ground but got up and ran it in for his second score; the play was reviewed but upheld and it was 21-0 with three minutes left in the first quarter.
After another touchback, Blount lost a yard on a first-down run but a crossing route by WR Preston Parker led to a seven-yard gain. On third-and-four, Freeman stepped up under pressure and got a short pass off to TE Kellen Winslow, who was able to just get past the sticks for a first down. Josh Johnson came in to run a "Wildcat" snap at QB and ran around right end for a gain of five but on second down Abraham got to Freeman before he could throw and simply stripped the ball out of his hand for a sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery at the Bucs' 30.
A 14-yard run by Turner around left end ended the first quarter, and after the two teams switched sides two more Turner runs made it first-and-goal at the five. Turner ran twice more for one and three yards, and on third-and-goal from the one the Bucs stopped the Falcon back a few inches short of the line. The Falcons elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal and Turner was able to power it in over right tackle for a 28-0 Atlanta lead.
A four-yard Blount run and a throw-away under pressure made it third-and-six for the Bucs on the ensuing drive. Freeman tried to hit RB Kregg Lumpkin over the middle but the pass was intercepted by Lofton and returned 26 yards for a touchdown.
A late-hit penalty on the Falcons added 15 yards to WR Micheal Spurlock's kickoff return that followed, putting the ball at the Bucs' 31 to start the next drive. A one-yard run by Blount and a catch over the middle by Winslow for five yards made it third-and-four and Freeman managed to avoided a sack and find Lumpkin for 12 yards and a first down along the right sideline. On the next play, Winslow caught a short out and tried to turn up the sideline but the ball was knocked from his grasp by S William Moore. The ball stayed inbound as it rolled back towards the Bucs' end zone, and Moore came back to recover it and return it to the Bucs' 18. Tampa Bay challenged the call and it was ruled that Moore had not reestablished himself inbounds before touching the ball. That made the play an eight-yard loss and it was second-and-18, still Bucs ball, at the 41. A draw play to Madu got three but Freeman had to throw the ball away on third down when a delayed blitz by Moore made it impossible for him to find an open man. Koenen punted the ball down to the Atlanta 13, where it was fair caught with 7:39 left in the half.
The Falcons covered the 87 on yards on two plays, the second one an 81-yard run by Turner, making it 42-0 with seven minutes still to go in the first half.
The Bucs' offense got its first big play to start the next drive, as Parker caught a quick slant from the left and got behind the defense for a gain of 48 yards. From the Atlanta' 32, Freeman threw another slant, this time to Briscoe on the right side, and it was good for another nine yards. After a short pass to Lumpkin moved the chains, Winslow absorbed a big hit over the middle from Thomas DeCoud but held on for a gain of 13 and a first down at the Atlanta seven. An offsides call on Abraham moved the ball half the distance to the end zone but a swing pass to Blount lost seven yards back to the 10. Parker ran a buttonhook and caught an eight-yard pass at the two on second down, and Briscoe worked open in the middle of the end zone on third down for a two-yard score, his fifth of the year.
Redman came in to lead the Falcons' next drive and threw a 12-yard screen to White to start it off. After the two-minute warning, Jones found the edge on an end-around and gained nine yards to the Atlanta 41. A Snelling run up the middle picked up enough for a new first down and the Falcons, with their 35-point lead, called a timeout with 1:05 left in the half. Haynesworth knocked down Redman's next pass in the backfield, but he completed the next two and essentially ran out the first-half clock.