Last week Stephen Hill was challenged by Rex Ryan to raise his level of play.
The rookie wide receiver answered his head coach's call Sunday, finishing with a game-high five catches for 40 yards, three first downs and a key third-down catch in the Jets' one-point win over the Cardinals.
"I told Stephen in front of the team he was going to have to really step up big for us," Ryan said following the victory. "I thought the first play of the game, we might have been able to get him deep. He made some great catches. He battled like crazy against a good group of defensive backs, so I was happy with the way Stephen played. I really like the way he's blocking as well."
The performance by Hill, the former standout at Georgia Tech, was his most productive since Oct. 21 when he finished with seven catches for 55 yards during the Jets' 29-26 overtime loss at New England.
Each of Hill's five catches Sunday resulted in positive yardage, but maybe his best was his leaping 8-yard reception from QB Greg McElroy during the Jets' lone scoring drive when they were facing third-and-6 at the Cardinals' 43. McElroy's throw was high, but Hill, who stands 6"4', leaped, secured the ball and held on despite CB Greg Toler's submarine tackle.
"Once I caught it, I just saw out of the corner of my eye that I knew that somebody was coming up under the cliff," Hill said. "So my thought was just to hold on to the football."
"Stephen did a great job of getting leverage immediately and I was able to give it to him outside," McElroy said on Jets Replay. "He jumped up and made a great play."
The key third-down conversion kept the Jets' drive moving toward McElroy's 1-yard touchdown pass to TE Jeff Cumberland on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On the Green & White's final drive of the game, McElroy aimed to connect with Hill again. This time it was third-and-3 with 5:02 left. G-Mac's pass was intercepted by S James Sanders, but the play was nullified due to illegal contact by Toler on Hill, giving the Jets an automatic first down at the Arizona 38.
"We saw a man-to-man, and he kind of held me right at the top of the break," the Jets WR said. "Good thing I kept running through that. It was definitely a good call by the refs."
It wasn't just Hill's strong day receiving and blocking for the 177-yard rushing attack that helped the Jets pick up their fifth win of the season. Their defense also deserved a large part of the credit in putting together its best performance of the season, allowing Arizona 137 yards of total offense and preventing the Cardinals from connecting on a single third-down conversion. The second-round wideout noticed.
"They were great," Hill said. "You normally can just pick out some guys that stood out, but everybody was great. From coverage to just down there with the big men, everybody was great."
Heading to Jacksonville, Hill has 21 receptions for 252 yards (12.0-yard average), three touchdowns, 17 first downs, six conversions on third down and one on fourth down.
The win Sunday is something he and his teammates hope to build off of. With just four games remaining, they're staying confident they can continue to push toward the playoffs.
"We can still make it," he said. "That's all in my head right now, just straight belief in knowing that we can do it because I already know we can."
And while the victory over the Cardinals won't ever necessarily be labeled as pretty, it was in fact a win.
"Like they always say," Hill said, "seven is always better than six."