ATLANTA - The Falcons saved their season. For now.
Backup quarterback Chris Redman threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White with 23 seconds remaining yesterday, and Atlanta pulled out a 20-17 victory over the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers after offensive stars Matt Ryan and Michael Turner went down with injuries.
"We couldn't afford to lose this one," White said. "It's a good thing Chris came in there and did what he had to do to win this game."
Will it last? That likely depends on how long Ryan, Turner and starting offensive linemen Harvey Dahl and Sam Baker are out. All left the game with injuries, and the Falcons wouldn't say how serious they are.
Ryan, the second-year quarterback out of Penn Charter and Boston College, hurt his big right toe on Atlanta's very first series. Turner reinjured his right ankle in the third quarter, a high sprain that had kept the running back out of the previous game and limited him in practice.
"Those guys are our franchise players," White said.
Having already lost four of five, the Falcons (6-5) were in deep trouble after Jason Elam missed another field-goal try - maybe his last in Atlanta - and the woeful Bucs (1-10) drove into Atlanta territory.
But Connor Barth was just off target on a 51-yard attempt with 2:30 left, giving the Falcons one more chance with no timeouts. Redman calmly directed a 59-yard drive that gave the Falcons a win they absolutely had to have, considering the next two games are against the Eagles and unbeaten New Orleans.
On fourth-and-goal at the 5, Redman hit White on a slant coming over the middle while cornerback Derrick Roberson made a futile swipe at the ball.
"I'm always ready at any time," Redman said. "That's what I'm here for."
A blocked punt by Corey Lynch set up Josh Freeman's 8-yard touchdown pass to Carnell Williams early in the third quarter, putting the Bucs ahead 17-10.
It almost held up.
"You've got to make that last play at the end of the game," cornerback Aqib Talib said.
Redman, who started for Atlanta in 2007 after Michael Vick was suspended, had gotten into just one game in 2 years since Ryan's arrival.
On the last drive, Redman completed four passes to Tony Gonzalez for 34 yards, and the Falcons got a big break when Roberson was called for holding on an incomplete pass to the other side of the field.
Still, Tampa Bay was one stop away from just its second win after Redman threw three straight incomplete passes from the 5. Down to his final try, Redman spotted White in single coverage and delivered a perfectly thrown pass.
"As a backup in the league, it's a very difficult position," coach Mike Smith said. "I know Chris is always going to be prepared. I had no doubt Chris was going to come in and execute efficiently."