McGreevy’s on Boylston St. is a bar deeply tied to Boston sports culture. It’s named after Michael “Nuf Ced” McGreevy, owner of the Third Base Saloon at the same location and one of the leaders of the Red Sox’s earliest fanbase, the “Royal Rooters.” McGreevy earned the nickname by banging on the bar and shouting “Nuf Ced” whenever he got sick of asshole Red Sox fans arguing too much.
A win sends the Patriots back to the Super Bowl, which they haven’t won since 2005. That’s a seven-year drought – worst among the Big 4.
A veritable cadre of friends and fans join me amidst the photos and memorabilia from baseball’s first dynasty, including good friends Noah Weiskoff and Graham Wright of the genre-transcending-while-reinventing band Oilhead.
The Patriots won’t blow away the Ravens as they did the Broncos. The Ravens’ secondary doesn’t give up big plays; they barely gives up small ones. All the Patriots can manage in the first 15 minutes is a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
That’s o.k. though, because the Patriot defense actually rises to the occasion. They force three-and-outs on the the Ravens’ first three possessions, with Vince Wilfork tearing through the Ravens’ offensive line in his pursuit of quarterback Joe Flacco or running back Ray Rice, Patriot playoff-killer and the NFL’s total yardage leader this season.
There can’t be too many things scarier for NFL quarterbacks than seeing Vince Wilfork zeroing in on them with nothing but grass standing between.
The Ravens’ tie the game early in the second, then go back on defense. Tom Brady just can’t find open receivers, in part because the Ravens drop a lot of players into coverage. That weakens their pass-rush (they only sack Brady once all game), and it leaves them vulnerable to the run. Specifically, Patriot running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis delays his runs a split-second, waits for his well-synchronized offensive line to open up running lanes, then bursts through.
Green-Ellis rushes for 28 yards on his first three rushes of the drive, then forces a face-mask penalty inside the Baltimore 20. He ends the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Though the lack of offense has held back the crowd at McGreevy’s, they get loud for the touchdown. If the Patriots can add a decent running game to their offense, it will take pressure off Brady and tire the Ravens’ defense.
The Ravens tie the game up again with a touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta, but Brady marches back down the field, and Gostkowski kicks another field goal for a 13-10 lead going into halftime. They add another on their first drive of the second half.
These short-yardage field goals might seem like second-best outcomes, but don’t knock Gostkowski’s accuracy. You’ll figure out why later.
The game goes exactly how the people I talk to all say they thought it would go beforehand.
“I thought this would be a low-scoring match,” says Peter Fleming, a marketing guy from Rhode Island. “I figured it would be a little tough for the Patriots to put up a lot of numbers on the Ravens.”
The Patriots defense effectively silence Rice, so the offense switches to Flacco and the passing game. Flacco isn’t very good, but neither are the Patriots’ corners. Flacco converts three third downs, the third on a screen-pass to Torrey Smith. Patriot corner Sterling Moore could have tackled Smith for a loss, but instead he whiffs, and Smith goes into the end zone.
The Ravens go up 17-16, taking their first lead of the game late in the third. If Flacco keeps burning the defense like this, the Patriots will lose.
“I really wanted them to bracket the hell out of Ray Rice and make sure he doesn’t run anywhere,” says Rob MacDonald, a Trader Joes employee from Brighton. “Unfortunately, they’re making Joe Flacco look like a good quarterback.”
As if the crowd wasn’t quiet enough, Danny Woodhead‘s fumble on the ensuing kickoff silences it. Only faint moans echo from neighboring tables.
Luckily, the defense holds the Ravens to a field goal, and Woodhead makes up for the gaff with a return that sets the Pats up at their 41. Brady then marches down the field, twice hitting Wes Welker to pick up first downs, including on a third-and-7 from the Baltimore 23.
The Patriots reach the 1-yard line. Brady QB sneaks once on second down and the touchdown call is reversed. They go for it on fourth and Brady leaps over the pile and in. 23-20 Patriots.
The excitement of the fourth quarter makes up for the lack thereof for the first three. Brandon Spikes picks off Flacco, but Brady goes for a play-action touchdown on the first play following the interception. The Ravens sniff it out, send two deep, and cornerback Jimmy Smith intercepts Brady.
Sometimes Brady’s devotion to the Patriot philosophy of interchangeable offensive pieces overwhelms common sense. That was a stupid pass.
On fourth-and-6 from the Patriot 33 during the Ravens’ resulting drive, Wilfork gets his hands on Flacco, spinning him and forcing an errant throw. Wilfork finishes with six total tackles, a sack and three tackles behind the line. He plays so well he reduces the usually loquacious Wright to a two-word summary: “very good.”
The Ravens get the ball back once more, marching all the way to the Patriot 14. Moore makes up for his missed tackle earlier with two great defensive plays.
Baltimore sets up place-kicker Billy Cundiff for a 32-yard chip-shot field goal. Then, this happens:
The Patriots win, 23-20. They’ll play the Giants in Super Bowl in XLVI. The game is almost poetic:
If Brady wins, he gets revenge for the 2008 Super Bowl. If Eli Manning wins, he passes his brother Peyton for championships. No matter who wins, the game is in Indianapolis: Peyton’s home field.
As the tension of the final minutes breaks into relief in McGreevy’s, bedlam ensues. People jump. They shout. They hug. They slap body-parts.
Of course, not everyone’s pleased.
“I’ve been a sports fan for hours, and you haven’t interviewed me,” my friend Mike Dieffenbach yells. “I thought we were friends.”
But the real fans – myself included – have finally seen their team win a close game against a winning team. The joy is unlike anything this season.
Unless they win in two weeks.
Matt Goisman is going to write about a game each and every week from America’s #1 city for sports: Here. We’re calling it 52 Games, because that’s what we’re going to end up with. This week, Goisman headed to McGreevy’s to watch the Patriots play the Ravens in the AFC Championship. Keep up with him here.