Things probably would have been better if Kristian Fulton had been able to play. They certainly couldn’t have been much worse.
Without the injured Fulton, the most experienced of their young cornerback group, the Tennessee Titans had no one who could consistently and effectively match up with Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs on Monday night.
The result was that Diggs caught 12 passes, which equaled the most by an opposing player during the Titans era (1999-present). He also scored three touchdowns all within a span of 10:26 on the game clock, and his 148 receiving yards are the eighth-most allowed to a single player by the Titans’ defense under coach Mike Vrabel.
The inability of the defense to cover the two-time Pro Bowler who was the NFL’s leading receiver in 2020, had a lot to do with the fact that Tennessee fell 41-7 in its only Monday Night Football appearance of the season.
Oh, and Diggs did it all in three quarters. The game was so far out of hand at the start of the fourth that both teams sent a number of their starters to the bench early.
“We’re certainly trying and mixing coverages,” coach Mike Vrabel said afterward.
None of it worked.
A rundown of the most receptions by a single player in a game against Tennessee during the Titans era (1999-present):
• Chad Johnson, Cincinnati (2007) – 12 receptions, 103 yards, 3 TDs
• Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (2007) – 12 receptions, 87 yards, 0 TD
• Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (2016) – 12 receptions, 126 yards, 1 TD
• Michael Thomas, New Orleans (2019) – 12 receptions, 136 yards, 1 TD
• Stefon Diggs, Buffalo (2022) – 12 receptions, 148 yards, 3 TDs
The all-time franchise record for receptions by an opposing player is 14 set by Pittsburgh’s Courtney Hawkins (he had 147 yards and one touchdown) in 1998, the final year of the Tennessee Oilers. Earlier that same season, Baltimore running back Priest Holmes had 13 catches for 98 yards in a contest.
Almost certainly Diggs would have topped those if the score had been closer.
As it was, he wasted no time getting going. He caught a pass for 4 yards on the first offensive play of the night and was the game’s leading receiver with four catches for 37 yards in the first quarter. Likewise, at halftime, his seven receptions and 65 receiving yards were tops for any player on either side. His 83 yards receiving in the third quarter were more than twice what the Titans as a whole managed in the second half.
Diggs’ first touchdown came with one minute to play in the first half. He got free when Caleb Farley, making his second career start, let him go in zone coverage. The result was that no one matched up with Diggs on first-and-goal from the 4.
He then capped Buffalo’s opening possession of the second half with a 46-yard touchdown catch. On that one, he easily got behind undrafted rookie Tre Avery, who saw extensive playing time as a situational substitute after having not played at all on defense in Week 1.
There were other indignities Diggs inflicted on Tennessee’s defense as well. He lowered his shoulder and drove rookie cornerback Roger McCreary out of bounds to conclude a 9-yard gain early in the third quarter. Then a 6-yard gain (his 11th catch) later in the quarter turned into a 20-yard pickup because Chris Jackson grabbed him by the facemask on the tackle. Two plays later, Diggs beat Jackson for his third touchdown – and his final catch.
Of course, the Titans' problems started on Saturday when Fulton was ruled out because of a hamstring injury.