CLEVELAND — On Sunday night, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs for their first postseason win since the 1994 season. It was the team's biggest win in decades. Of course, credit goes to the players and coaches who have been stars all season long—plus one guy, whose name you probably haven't heard before last night in the fourth quarter—Blake Hance.
Hance was signed to the Browns on Jan. 2 from the New York Jets practice squad, a move most fans in Cleveland paid little attention to.
As a rookie out of Northwestern in 2019, Hance signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent. He spent the 2020 season on the Jets practice squad. He was listed as an inactive player in the Browns' Week 17 match-up against the Steelers, so he saw no on-field action during his first regular-season game as a Brown.
That all changed in the postseason.
With 9:47 on the clock, the Browns were driving down the field, hoping to hold off the Steelers while up 42-29. That’s when backup guard Michael Dunn, who was filling in at left guard for veteran Pro-Bowler Joel Bitonio, went down.
Dunn left the game with a calf injury, putting the Browns in a tough spot.
Down Bitonio, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list before the game, and minus Dunn, and versatile offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, who was already out with a season-ending knee injury, the Browns had just one person to look to: Blake Hance.
Hance wasn’t just a stranger to fans heading into Sunday’s game—he had just met quarterback Baker Mayfield in the locker room that evening.
"A guy named Blake that I introduced myself to literally in the locker room before the game, stepped up in the fourth quarter," Mayfield said on Sunday moments after the game.
He sure did. With no NFL game experience under his belt, Hance embodied the Browns' “next man up” mentality we’ve seen all season with the night of his life.
With nearly an entire quarter to go and the Steelers having swung some momentum, Hance held the line, keeping Mayfield clean—allowing no sacks on the Browns quarterback and helping the team drive down and score two field goals before the game came to an end and Cleveland came out on top in a 48-37 victory.
Center JC Tretter said Hance worked on his plays and calls all week, making sure he was ready if his number was called.
It’s a big ask for any player to have their moment in the playoffs, let alone someone with no NFL playing experience. But Hance did just that and became an unsung hero on a night no one will soon forget.
On Monday afternoon, head coach Kevin Stefanski, who could not be with the team last week due to COVID-19 restrictions, said he hasn't even met Hance yet—but said he's "looking forward to it."
And to top it all off, Hance will celebrate his Victory Monday and his 25th birthday all at once.
What a gift.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.