Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White (84) jumps past Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Tanard Jackson (36) and defensive back Elbert Mack (33) during the first half Sunday in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — 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 against the dreadful Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday to clinch the No. 5 seed.
Rookie 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 and avenged an earlier loss to the Bucs this season, 16-13, in Tampa.
“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.”
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. That means the Falcons would play at the winner of Sunday night’s late Dallas-New York Giants game, which the Giants won, 31-14, after jumping out to a 21-0 halftime lead.
“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 in ugly fashion, leaving the status of coach Raheem Morris in doubt.
“If I was in the business of working out my future, I wouldn’t be coaching,” Morris said. “I’m going to go to work tomorrow until they tell me to stop.”
The Falcons led 42-0 when they began resting some starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan and Turner, late in the first half.
“We had opportunities the week before and just didn’t make the plays,” Ryan said. “Today, we made the plays and I think that’s what we needed moving forward.”
Ryan was 6 of 9 for 106 yards, including touchdown passes of 17 and 48 yards to Jones in the first quarter.
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.
“This is not the season we wanted or expected, but we will need to rededicate ourselves and get ready for this offseason,” Morris said.
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.
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. Last week’s loss at New Orleans was the worst in four seasons with Smith.
“The main thing we wanted to do was flush out of our system last week,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said.
The Falcons announced before the game Gonzalez, 35, has signed a one-year contract extension, ending speculation he might retire after this season.
The Falcons had the No. 1 seed in the playoffs last year before losing to the Packers.
Despite the team’s lower seed, Gonzalez said the Falcons are prepared for a longer postseason run.
“Honestly, I’ve said it all year: I think we’re a better team than we were last year,” Gonzalez said.
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.
Notes: Ryan passed Jeff George for the Falcons’ most yards passing in a season. George threw for 4,143 yards in 1995. Ryan has 4,177. ... Turner has 50 rushing touchdowns in four seasons with the Falcons, passing Gerald Riggs’ team record of 48. ... WR 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 finished the game with 7,374 for his career. ... By playing in his 225th game with Tampa Bay, CB Ronde Barber passed Derrick Brooks for the team record.