ATLANTA -- The Falcons saved their season.
Backup quarterback Chris Redman threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White with 23 seconds remaining Sunday, and Atlanta pulled out a 20-17 victory against 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, hurt his big right toe on Atlanta's very first series. Turner reinjured his right ankle during 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 victory they absolutely had to have, considering the next two games are against Philadelphia 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."
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 only one game in two 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 only its second victory after Redman threw three consecutive 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."
While White was mobbed in the end zone by teammates Gonzalez and Eric Weeks, Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris kneeled down in disbelief.
The embattled Morris had taken over defensive playcalling duties earlier in the week after demoting coordinator Jim Bates. The move nearly paid immediate dividends. Instead, the Bucs had another crushing loss in a season filled with them.
"We were a 1-9 team, and now we're a 1-10 team," Morris said. "It's never a step forward when you lose."
Despite being sacked five times, Redman completed 23 of 41 for 243 yards, also flipping a quick pass to Jerious Norwood that was little more than a handoff but wound up being a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Falcons an early 10-0 lead.
The Bucs fought back to tie the game before halftime. Freeman went deep down the left sideline to Antonio Bryant, who leaped up to snatch the ball away from Falcons cornerback Tye Hill, then rolled into the end zone when he realized he hadn't been touched for a 42-yard touchdown. Barth booted a 39-yard field goal late in the half.
Freeman, coming off a four-turnover performance in a 31-point loss to New Orleans, bounced back nicely in his fourth career start. He was 20 of 29 for 250 yards and didn't have any turnovers, managing to recover a fumble that was his only major mistake.
Ryan apparently hurt his toe on the ninth snap of the game, a sack by Stylez White and Tim Crowder. The toe was taped up, extra padding was added to his shoe and Ryan did some light jogging on the sideline to test it out.
Nothing worked. Ryan changed into street clothes at halftime and watched the rest of the game wearing a special shoe.
- Elam connected from 45 and 37 yards, but he had predicted the Falcons would probably cut him if he missed another. He was wide left from 43 yards with 6½ minutes to go, leaving him only 8 for 15 on attempts of at least 30 yards.
- The Bucs lost WR Michael Clayton to a knee injury in the first half.