Hit on Bengals punter was illegal, NFL says (updated)

(Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Huber jogged off Sunday night. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

The hit that left Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber with a broken jaw and cracked vertebra has been ruled illegal by the NFL, although it was not flagged during the game.

Huber, who will have surgery Friday on his jaw and is out for the season, was hurt in the Bengals’ 30-20 loss Sunday night when Terence Garvin blocked him, helping spring Antonio Brown for a 67-yard touchdown return. Huber is not expected to need surgery on his vertebra.

“Huber, he’s a punter and the key is he’s defenseless throughout the down,” Dean Blandino, the NFL’s director of officiating, said Tuesday the NFL Network. “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 top of Garvin’s helmet hit Huber and Garvin should have been called for a personal foul, Blandino said.

“You’ll see the close-up where you can see the contact to the head or neck area,” Blandino said. “So this will certainly be a point of emphasis this week, especially with our referees who are responsible for the punter on plays like this. We want to flag hits like that.”

Garvin can expect to be fined for the hit. “The nature in which the block unfolded, obviously, is not what we’re looking for,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said (via Cincinnati.com). “It’s not what we coach.”

The injury ended Huber’s streak of 81 consecutive games played. “I’m good. I’m feeling pretty good,” he said Wednesday afternoon (via Joe Reedy of Cincinnati.com). “The pain’s pretty good, pretty tolerable. It’s more uncomfortable than anything.”

He followed it up with a change of avatar:

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