Ravens safety Will Hill's ears were practically ringing, and his pride was stung.
Throughout the week as Hill prepared to cover New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, he was constantly asked by the coaching staff if he was up to the task. That included inquiries from coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
"All of the coaches came up to me and asked me if I was up to the challenge to defend him," Hill said. "I was like, 'Are you serious?' I just accepted the challenge and told myself, 'This is Monday Night Football and you have a great chance to make a statement.' I'm always going to bet on myself. I just stepped up to the challenge.
"I'm not even going to lie to you, Harbs on down, even Kubiak said, 'You got the big guy this week, you sure you're ready?' I studied a lot of film on him and noticed his tendencies. A guy like Graham is real physical. He's a really big guy and he doesn't expect anybody to get up on him. A defensive back, he tries to bully. I think I caught him off-guard a little bit."
Hill responded to the pressurized situation by delivering a clutch, game-changing play during the third quarter of the Ravens' 34-27 victory over the Saints. He read quarterback Drew Brees' eyes and jumped a pass intended for Graham, returning the interception 44 yards for a touchdown and providing a momentum shift for the Ravens.
"I seen Brees was in trouble," Hill said. "He was out there looking for his No. 1 guy. Then I saw him throw the ball and I noticed it was a little bit behind the receiver and I just took the opportunity on the ball and ran with it."
As if Hill wasn't aware enough of the matchup, the defense got another reminder from defensive coordinator Dean Pees at halftime during a fiery speech that their play wasn't up to his standard.
"Dean Pees came in the locker room at halftime and gave us a reality check, that's all you could call it," Hill said. "He said we need to tackle, we need to continue to get after the run and said the secondary has to make plays. That was a wakeup call.
"I saw the way our offense was playing with fire. I told our defense that we have to match our offense. They're more physical than us right now. It just fell in place."
Graham finished the game with six receptions for 47 yards and two touchdowns while being targeted 10 times. And Brees piled up 420 yards and three touchdowns. But the Ravens got the last word. After halftime, the Ravens surrendered just 10 points and 190 yards the rest of the way.
"Coach Pees got fired up," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "He was hot. It was emotional, about how much he loves the game. He knew we were better than this team. We worked our ass off this week. We needed this victory. He saw us giving up easy stuff and he didn't like that. He got us right, and you saw how guys responded."
When outside linebacker Terrell Suggs hit Brees in the third quarter, it affected the throw and Hill capitalized.
"Will Hill's play was the difference in the game for a lot of reasons," head coach John Harbaugh said. "There's seven points, so that's the most obvious reason. There's also the fact that we could make a play on defense, we could come up with a play. Not just a stop, we made plenty of stops, but an interception. Go grab it and take it the other way. That's something that's been lacking, that we needed. It came at the right time."
It was Hill's first interception since December, when he was playing for the New York Giants. He was cut by New York after losing an appeal of his substance-abuse suspension. Signed by the Ravens in July, Hill served a six-game suspension and has emerged as a starter.
The secondary has had its struggles this season, and the criticism hasn't gone unnoticed.
"We're NFL defensive backs, and for people to talk about us like we're kids, that's belittling," Hill said. "It's time for us to step up and show what we're capable of."