TAMPA, Fla. – One more win. That's all the Falcons need over the final two weeks of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth.
Of course, the Falcons could still accomplish much bigger things in 2017.
After holding on to beat the Buccaneers 24-21 on Monday night, Atlanta picked up its ninth win of the year and kept pace with the New Orleans Saints (10-4) and the Carolina Panthers (10-4) in the NFC South. Even better? The Falcons play both of those teams over the next two weeks and should they win both, they'll repeat as NFC South champions.
Not too bad for a team that was once sitting at 3-3 toward the end of October.
Freeman's big run comes at critical juncture
Devonta Freeman's 32-yard run with 7:58 remaining was the knockout punch the Falcons desperately needed. It not only was the third-longest touchdown run of Freeman's career, but it put him over the century mark for the first time since Week 3.
Here's the touchdown run that gave the Falcons a 24-14 lead.
The score ties Freeman with William Andrews and Warrick Dunn for fifth in team history with 30 rushing touchdowns. Freeman finished with 126 yards on 22 carries.
Bucs put up a fight
The win over the rival Bucs, though, didn't come easy. On a night when Jon Gruden was honored at halftime and put into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor, Tampa Bay refused to go quietly into the night.
After Tampa Bay scored in the third quarter on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans to make it 17-14, the Falcons had a chance to extend their lead to six points. But Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked by William Gholston, which gave the Bucs life heading into the final quarter.
But the Bucs also missed a field goal of their own as time expired. Patrick Murray's 54-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. With it went the Buccaneers' chances to send the game into overtime,
Three straight scoring drives
After a three-and-out to begin the game, the Falcons put together back-to-back nine-play touchdown drives in the first half.
The first drive ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Justin Hardy, who also happened to be celebrating his 26th birthday Monday night.
The second ended with a Devonta Freeman run – then fumble – which was recovered by Levine Toilolo in the end zone.
Up 14-7 in the second, they followed those with a six-play drive capped with a booming 57-yard field goal by Matt Bryant to take a 10-point lead into halftime. The field goal was the third-longest of Bryant's career.
What the win means for the Falcons
In short, Monday night's win means the Falcons (9-5) are one step closer to clinching a playoff berth. If they win their final two games, Atlanta will win the NFC South crown for the second consecutive year. If they should win just one of the final two games, they'll clinch a wild-card berth at the very least.
What is next for the Falcons
The Falcons are off to New Orleans for a key showdown against the Saints on Christmas Eve. After beating the Buccaneers (4-10) on Monday night, all the Falcons need to do now is win one of their final two games to clinch a wild-card berth. Beating the Saints (10-4) would assure that much.
Recap Monday night's game with the in-game blog
We provided live updates and analysis during Monday night's game against the Buccaneers as well as highlights, stats and additional insights. You can recap all the action below.