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Garvin suspension considered for punter hit

huber jaw crop

Week 15: Bengals at Steelers (video)

Update below

It was a breakaway punt return, and Bengals punter Kevin Huber was positioning himself to stop or at least slow down Antonio Brown’s track towards the end zone. Brown’s teammate, Terence Garvin helped clear the obstruction by flattening Huber with a helmet-to-the-chin blast. The force of the hit fractured Huber’s jaw, and the only solid thing Huber will have in his mouth for the foreseeable future is the gauze that packed his mouth as he left the field.

Garvin should have been penalized for a delivering an illegal hit on a defenseless player (as we detailed in our quick calls). In the traffic headed towards the end zone, referee Ed Hochuli (who is primary on the punter) did not see the illegal part of the hit (h/t Deadspin for isolation of the hit).

Garvin will no doubt be fined for his hit, for which the minimum fine is $21,000 for a first offense. (The rookie linebacker has not been fined before.) But there is talk in league circles that Garvin could be suspended for a game.

A league source told Football Zebras that “they are talking possible suspension” in the Monday morning executive sessions at the league office. The league’s own documentation to the players handed out during preseason does not preclude that a suspension could be heaped upon a fine in extraordinary cases:

Please note the League’s rules that protect against illegal hits to defenseless players and that prohibit initiating contact with the crown of the helmet . These hits are dangerous and may cause long-term damage. Violations of these rules may result in on-field penalties and discipline by the League. Clubs have emphasized that when circumstances warrant, suspension (even for first time offenders) is appropriate discipline.

The bold and underline is part of the original document. Continuing:

As part of the National Football League’s emphasis on protection of the head, players who deliver blows to the head or neck area of defenseless players when there are no mitigating circumstances may be subject to suspension.

The characteristics of such hits include when: (1) the player delivering the blow has an unobstructed path to his opponent; (2) the position of the player receiving the blow is not materially affected by any other player; and (3) the contact is avoidable. Violations that include all of these characteristics could lead to suspension, even on a first offense.

Huber was a defenseless player by rule, as punters have that protection for the duration of a kick through the end of the down. There are many reasons for this.

I interviewed the late Giants punter Dave Jennings in 19 — uh, the year doesn’t matter — about the conditioning regimen for punters. He said he lifted weights for muscle tone, but he was not looking for build. So, we are talking about players that are intentionally not of typical athletic structure. They also are minimally padded, because they need a range of motion for the kick. Most importantly, if a team loses a punter during the game, an inexperienced placekicker who takes over punting duties might pooch some awful punts, giving a tremendous advantage to the opponent. Therefore, even if a punter engages in an attempt to tackle a runner, he is justifiably defenseless from receiving a bell-ringing hit.

As for hits on defenseless players drawing an immediate suspension, there is precedent. In 2009, Panthers defensive back Dante Wesley was suspended one game for essentially running through Buccaneers punt returner Clifton Smith.

The hit on Huber was violent enough to place him on injured reserve. It easily could have been an ejectable offense, and certainly a one-game suspension. But, judging by disciplinary actions this season, a one-game suspension is generally downgraded on appeal to a substantial fine.

If the league issues the standard minimum $21,000 fine, then it has lost the ability to enforce player safety.

Update 12/18: Garvin was fined $25,000 — or 19% above the league minimum for a first offense.

Image: Cincinnati Bengals photo

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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17 thoughts on “Garvin suspension considered for punter hit

  1. How about a rule that punters can’t try to make a tackle then? I get protecting them while they exposed during the kick but in the name of all that’s good and green he was in the middle of the field trying to make “a play”.

    Does the defender have to stop and check his number before making a play himself?

    In the Super Bowl a Raven player two-hand shoved a refs during a fight. No ejection, no penalty, no fine. And I believe that rule is pretty black and white too.

    I guess if you want to fine him because the hit was a little too high I can accept that as part of the new NFL’s attempt to protect players…but its too gray of an area, for me, to suspend him also because they guy got hurt.

    And when they start fining for ALL H2H hits (including RB’s in situatins like Bell’s two weeks ago) I’ll start taking it all much more seriously.


  2. Do you seriously think that the defense doesn’t know exactly where the punter is? The rule is in place precisely for this type of hit. That was targeted all the way.

    The punter can be hit legally. Not like that, though.

  3. Garvin should be suspended as long as Huber is out. One game is not enough! He should be suspended a minimum of 4 games! The league has been protecting QBs and receiver’s against hits of this nature. That hit was uncalled for and the league should come down hard on him. The officials should also should be fined and suspended. They didn’t even throw a flag! Garvin broke Huber’s jaw and neck! He could have killed him! There was also a push in the back that opened the play up for the run back! From the very beginning of the game when Troy Palamalu was tackling a receiver before the ball arrived and hit him in the back just makes you wonder!

    The NFL is looking more like the WWF every week!

  4. OK…at least one of you is just a Bengals fan upset at the possible loss of the division.

    I propose a rule that the punter must leave the field immediately after the kick at some point behind the line of scrimmage. Problem solved.

  5. This is fucking ridiculous. garvin is obviously a thug. there was no reason to smash any human being like that. the punter was only considering heading toward a block, which he should have been more aware of what was coming, but still. Garvin should be banned from football or suspended for years. and he should be fined the most any layer could ever be fined. he should have tackled according to regulations, not a fierce hit like that. if i were the punter i would be putting out a contract on that mtf. i get sick of these assholes ruining the game like that.

  6. In the video you can see Huber slowly approaching the running lane, all of his attention on the runner, when Garvin charges and delivers the head-butt. There was nothing inadvertent or accidental about it. Garvin could have easily and legally grabbed or blocked Huber, but instead chose to viciously flatten him.

    Throw the book at him.

  7. All the comments of the flavor “What do you mean, you can’t hit him? The punter was trying to make a tackle! Put skirts on them and play flag football! Blah, blah, blah…” are way off-base.

    The fact that the punter is considered a defenseless player doesn’t mean he can’t be hit, it means he can’t be hit above the shoulder, just like a receiver catching a pass or a quarterback throwing one. The defender could have delivered a de-cleating hit square to the punter’s chest and it would have been both effective and perfectly legal. Instead he made a dangerous and vicious play that should have been a penalty, certainly should be fined, and probably deserves a 1-game suspension.

  8. Garvin is a completely meaningless player. Hit the Steelers where it hurts – take away another draft pick from them. Change the culture around that team. The Steelers have been a dirty team ever since Hines Ward was drafted. They teach their players to play like that. If they find that these dirty plays are going to start really costing them, they may finally change their ways.

  9. Again, if the NFL wants to say it was a high hit, so be it.

    But all this gnashing of teeth that it was dirty is way off base too.

    And, again, if a punter gets to play by special rules just simply have them wear a red shirt so they can picked out of the crowd when they are trying to make a tackle.

    They have no problem with a H2H hit as long as its within the tackles.

  10. Not a Steelers or Bengals fan here. I have friends who play in the NFL and have grown up in a college football family. Everyone I have talked to about this agrees, it was a completely dirty play. He wasn’t defending. He was on the attack. Granted I have no idea what it’s like to be charging at someone and trying to aim below the shoulders; but I can imagine that with the years and years of experience these men have, a head to chin contact is something they have drilled into them not to do.
    This isn’t a matter of steelers or bengals. This is an issue of safety. If huber had been hit any harder or any higher, the vertebrate he fractured could have permentally paralyzed him or even killed him. These guys do this for a living. They are all trying to be the best but it shouldn’t come at a cost of others safety. The amount of players out on IR this year is astounding. If players want to be the best by attacking each other and having no regard for others involved they should just go compete in Thunderdome.

    I don’t really think a fine will make enough of an impact. A few game suspensions may work but Steelers have a pretty low shot at making it to the playoffs this year so suspending him wouldn’t really matter much.

    Once again, not a issue of which team is better. This is a matter of safety.

  11. The punter has protection til the end of the down. Steelers are a dirty team. It’s not the first time they intentionally targeted a Bengals player to hurt him. Palmers knee in the playoffs. I agree he should be out for as many games as Huber but I’d be happy with their last two games.

  12. Thirdpartylook….I agree. I’ve seen talk of a 4 game suspension. The remaining 2 games this year and the first 2 games next year. I believe the Steelers continue to go too far and are making a mockery out of the game. Tomlin needs to be held accountable and it;s time to start taking draft picks away from the Steelers!

  13. Steelers targeting Bengals to injure goes waaaay back. The most egregious early instance was Keith Gary trying to twist Ken Anderson head clean off via the facemask and just not letting go. On the same play as Palmer was taken out (a 60+ yard bomb to Chris Henry (RIP), few other than Bengal fans remember Henry’s knee was also injured via the tackle on that very same play as Palmer so that he also needed surgery (apart from being 1/2 of the combination that would have lobbed bombs over top of that zone defense all day). Then Ward’s breaking Keith Rivers’s jaw with a similar ‘textbook’ stiller signature blindside block to the face. Then only last year WR Marvin Jones (burner who could catch balls over the top of the zone blitz … sense a pattern here?) was just coming into his own as a rookie complement to AJ Green when a stiller injured HIS knee on a kick return in the 1st quarter. Now this ‘signature’ play on Huber, again on a return?

    I can only imagine the time Odell Thurman was quite illegally tripped by the stiller C (which was of course not called a penalty) & his subsequent momentum (completely & w/o gaining his feet) carried him into Ben’s knees & no doubt prompted Bill Cowher to splice that tape to just after the illegal trip & show it to his defense in continuous loop to ‘inspire’ them with this ‘injustice’ for the divisional rematch …

  14. This hit has nothing to do with whether the defender was a punter. It has to do with the defenseless nature of the defender. It saddens me that so many support the hit as being legal because Huber could have attempted a tackle. It should be obvious to anyone neutral that Garvin purposefully hit a defenseless player who was totally vulnerable and could not protect himself. Garvin launched himself at Huber and raised his helmet prior to impact to maximize the damage. If Garvin pushed Huber with his with his hands; if he shielded Huber off; if he hit him in the torso the block would have been more than sufficient. The hit was meant to cause grave harm. And it did. Shame on all of you who defend the act as necessary or claim that Garvin ran into the blocker. Huber could have been paralyzed or even killed. It was a criminal act.

  15. Enough of this crap.

    If the league wants to say the hit was too close to the head and neck that’s perfectly understandable. But no one…NO ONE who is on the football field trying to make a play is “defenseless”. The QB while throwing, the kicker while kicking…that’s it.

    If the LB get a couple inches lower he hits the punter squarely in the chest and you would STILL be crying. The cracked neck more than likely came from the whiplash rather than the hit.

    Cripes! You want grown men running full speed to make “just enough” of a block?

    As soon as the league starts calling ALL H2H, including those who aren’t “defenseless” because they are within the tackles, I’ll take y’all seriously.

    There will be a fine for a “hit to the neck and head area”. Period.

    All this “defenseless” stuff is just stupid.

  16. So in this week’s Steeler game, there were two 40-plus yard kickoff returns by the Steelers – the 46-yard kickoff return by Emmanuel Sanders and a 41-yard punt return by Antonio Brown.

    On BOTH occasions, the tackles were made by the respective KICKERS, a.k.a. defenseless players.

    So were the Steelers backing off on blocking these guys because of this stupid rule? Why are they allowed to make TD-saving tackles if they are not allowed to be blocked? Stupid stupid rule.

  17. It should also be noted in the GB/PITT game that the GB QB was sliding giving himself up on a running play and the Stealer defender launched himself and attempted to take his head off. Why can;t the Stealers play the game without trying to end careers?

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