ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons grabbed the lead – and the No. 5 seed in the playoffs – and wouldn’t let go.
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 New York Giants on Sunday 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 consecutive 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 in a row in 1977. They lost 11in a row 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.
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 before resting their starters for the playoffs.
The Falcons were coming off a 45-16 loss at New Orleans.
“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.