NFL Says Hit On Bengals Punter Was Illegal

The NFL's VP of officiating Dean Blandino said last night that the hit by Steelers LB Terence Garvin on Bengals punter Kevin Huber should have been a penalty.

"Huber, he's a punter. And the key is he's defenseless throughout the down. So even though he's pursuing the play, he still gets defenseless-player protection. You can't hit him in the head or neck, and you can't use the crown or forehead parts of the helmet to the body."

The hit fractured Huber's jaw, and an x-ray revealed a cracked vertebra (though it's not clear if that was from an old injury). Expect Garvin's name to be called when fines are announced on Friday. Don't expect the NFL to wipe out the Pittsburgh touchdown that resulted from Garvin's block.

Below, our dive into the complicated rules that explains why punters are always "defenseless players."

Missed Penalty Gave Pittsburgh A Touchdown (And Broke A Punter's Jaw)

Kevin Huber was a lock for the Pro Bowl. But the Bengals punter's tremendous year was cut short with a fractured jaw, suffered when he was blindsided by Steelers LB Terence Garvin. It sprung Antonio Brown for a touchdown, but it was a blatantly missed penalty that should have cost Pittsburgh the score.

Update: Huber also has a cracked vertebra, and has been placed on season-ending IR.

It's difficult to keep track of what constitutes an illegal hit these days, but the rules could not be any more clear on Garvin's destruction of Huber. As pointed out by Ben Austro at Football Zebras, the rulebook defines 10 different instances of a player being in a "defenseless posture." Some we already know, like a receiver in the act of catching a pass, or a quarterback in the middle of, or just after, throwing a pass. Others are less familiar, like the snapper on a FG or PAT.

According to article 12.2.7(a)(6), "a kicker/punter during the kick or during the return" qualifies as being in a "defenseless posture." That's Huber for the entire length of the play.

The very next sub-article defines prohibited contact against defenseless players. 12.2.7.(b)(1): "Forcibly hitting the defenseless player's head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, even if the initial contact of the defender's helmet or facemask is lower than the passer's neck..."


Garvin got Huber in the neck and jaw with his helmet. It should have been 15 yards from the spot of the foul, which would have negated the Steelers' touchdown. Another missed call by the officials, though we wouldn't be shocked if the league office gives Garvin a call. That'll be little consolation for Huber, whose jaw was wired shut after the game.