Who has showcased the safest hands in NFL history? We take a look at who has the most receptions in an NFL game.
We’ve all dropped things from time to time, but rarely does doing so impact the hopes and dreams of everyone else in a packed stadium.
Those who can catch well when it comes to the NFL are valued above almost all others, and some have just had those days when everything seemed to stick in their hands.
Here, we take a look at the players who have racked up the most receptions in an NFL game.
Believe it or not, Antonio Brown maxed out at 16, Calvin Johnson at 14, and Julio Jones and Larry Fitzgerald at 13. While Michael Thomas owns the single-season record with 149 receptions, his highest one-game total was 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. Jerry Rice owns the record for most receptions in the playoffs with 151, but his top game was 16 against the Los Angeles Rams in 1994.
But these guys were the best of the best. Well, at least in terms of single-game performances.
Most Receptions in an NFL Game
1. 21 – Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos (vs. Indianapolis Colts; Dec. 13, 2009)
Just over a year after coming within two receptions of the record when he made 18 against the San Diego Chargers, Marshall was able to claim the record for himself with a remarkable showing against the Colts.
He managed to get open so often he was targeted 28 times in the game, successfully collecting the ball a record 21 times for a total of 200 yards. Marshall, who also spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks over his career, scored two touchdowns but was unable to prevent a 28-16 defeat.
He was at least able to console himself with an all-time record that still stands, and he did it against a team that reached that season’s Super Bowl, though Peyton Manning and the Colts would go on to lose to the New Orleans Saints.
2. 20 – Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Chicago Bears, Dec. 17, 2000)
Despite the Niners’ struggles in 2000, Owens was starting to shine brightly. His team may have ended the regular season 6-10, but T.O. put up career-best figures for scrimmage yards that year (1,462).
The Hall of Famer’s best performance undoubtedly came in mid-December when he hauled in 20 receptions from just 22 targets for a total of 283 yards in a 17-0 win over the Bears. Owens, who also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals in his career, also finished with 16 first downs and one touchdown to his name.
At the time, Owens had beaten an NFL record that had stood for 50 years.
T-3. 18 – Tom Fears, Los Angeles Rams (vs. Green Bay Packers, Dec. 3, 1950)
Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Fears was a standout wide receiver in the NFL and had broken the record for most receptions in a season in 1949 before doing so again a year later.
In that 1950 season, Fears added the most receptions in a game to his accomplishments, making 18 against the Packers as the Rams ran out 51-14 victors in Week 12. The Rams would eventually lose the NFL championship game 30-28 to the Cleveland Browns. Fears was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.
T-3. 18 – Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Minnesota Vikings, Sept. 24, 2023)
Far more recently, Allen matched Fears’ single-game output. The veteran had been building up to it too. In 2015, Allen had 15 catches for the Chargers against the Detroit Lions in 2015 before recording 16 against the Jets in 2020.
In September 2023, he upped his personal best again with 18 against the Vikings. It came from just 20 targets, and though he didn’t score a TD, he did manage 10 first downs and a total of 215 receiving yards to help his team to a 28-24 Week 3 victory.
T-3. 18 – Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos (vs. San Diego Chargers, Sept. 14, 2008)
It’s that man again. As mentioned, prior to his record-breaking performance against the Colts in 2009, Marshall had become only the second person after Owens to match Fears’ previous record of 18 receptions in a game. He’s the only person to appear twice in these rankings.
It was a dramatic ending to the matchup as the Broncos won it 39-38 with a 2-point conversion with seconds remaining. Marshall was the one who laid the groundwork with his spectacular play throughout the game. Like Allen years later, he needed only 20 targets to do it, while he scored one TD and produced 10 first downs.
T-3. 18 – Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (vs. New York Giants, Oct. 28, 2012)
While Zack Ertz, George Kittle, Kellen Winslow have had 15-catch games, Witten owns the single-game record for tight ends when he joined Marshall and Fears in the 18-reception club in 2012. (Witten also had a 15-catch game against the Lions in 2007).
In what was his best NFL season – the only one in which he totaled over 100 receptions (110) – Witten’s best day came in 2012. It wasn’t enough to prevent a 29-24 loss to Eli Manning and the Giants, but Witten still managed 18 receptions from 23 targets for a total of 167 yards.