Hit on Bengals punter was illegal

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CINCINNATI -- The hit by a Pittsburgh return team blocker that ended Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber's season was an illegal one, Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officials, said Tuesday night.

The announcement confirmed what many had speculated since watching the violent play unfold in the first quarter of Sunday night's game between the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Huber, he's a punter. And the key is he's defenseless throughout the down," Blandino said on NFL Network.

As Huber was trying to help seal a hole during Antonio Brown's punt return, Steelers return team blocker Terence Garvin unleashed a hard blindside hit on him. Garvin's helmet caught the bottom of Huber's face mask just before the kicker flew to the turf. Although he eventually got up and jogged off the field with gauze in his mouth, Huber ended up suffering a broken jaw and cracked vertebrae on the play. Placed on injured reserve Tuesday, his season is now over.

"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."

Blandino said Garvin should have been handed a personal foul penalty. No penalty of any kind was awarded. Instead, Brown flashed through the hole Garvin's hit helped open and ended up going virtually untouched 67 yards for a touchdown. The score pushed the Steelers' early lead to 21-0. Cincinnati's desperate comeback bid ultimately fell short. The Bengals ended up losing, 30-20.

"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 likely will be fined by the league for the hit this week.

To fill Huber's roster spot, the Bengals signed former Bills punter Shawn Powell. The Florida State product was a consensus All-America selection before being signed by Buffalo as an undrafted free agent in April 2012. He was released by Buffalo on Oct. 4, one day after Cleveland's Travis Benjamin took a punt back for a touchdown and was a Powell tackle away from breaking another.

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