Late in the first quarter of their 30-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field, the Steelers got a punt return touchdown from Antonio Brown that increased their lead to 21-0 and made the visitors’ chance at a comeback minuscule. But the aftermath of that game-changing play was dominated by discussion on the devastating block Pittsburgh’s Garvin laid on Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber.
As you probably know, Huber left the game with a broken jaw and was later found to have a cracked vertebra in his neck as well. NBC replayed the hit many times, and it seemed to be a clean, if brutal play to most football fans.
However, as officiating sites like Football Zebras and eventually the NFL acknowledged, the block should’ve been flagged as unnecessary roughness, since kickers and punters are now considered to be “defenseless” throughout return plays. As such, they receive protection from being hit in the head or neck, or with the crown of the helmet in any part of the body.
The officiating crew missed the infraction, but WLWT-TV in Cincinnati reported Wednesday afternoon that Garvin, a 23-year-old rookie linebacker out of West Virginia University, will be fined $25,000 for the illegal block on Friday. For a first-year player trying to carve out a spot on the Steelers’ depth chart, it’s a significant bit of supplemental discipline.
While our FanSided brethren at Nice Pick, Cowher may disagree, what Garvin did to Huber was unnecessary and a detriment to the game of football. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said as much as his weekly press conference Tuesday on the South Side, saying “what he’s supposed to do and what transpired…are two different things” when asked about Garvin’s block.
First of all, even though Garvin got his name out in the NFL landscape with his attention-grabbing play, what did it really prove? Brown was already on his way up the middle of the field for the score when Garvin caught Huber in a vulnerable position. Realistically, all Garvin had to do was bump Huber upfield and Brown would continue untouched. It’s unlikely Garvin knew it was the punter he was about to “blow up,” but considering Brown’s quick feet and the clear path to the end zone, there’s no need to try to take a guy’s head off.
Football’s a rough game, and it’s not suited for people adverse to contact, but there is such a thing as respect for a fellow human being, no matter the context. Huber has handled his situation well, even using a picture of the hit as his Twitter avatar. Nonetheless, I would hope Garvin realizes the amount of force he employed was extraneous.
Intimidation is part of the game. A hit like Garvin’s might make opposing players be overly cautious against the Steelers in the future; one half-second of hesitation is enough to alter an NFL game, maybe an entire season at this time of year. But you can hit hard without performing amateur oral surgery.
Kudos to the NFL for constantly making changes to keep scenes like Sunday night’s to a minimum. The league’s executives may have liability on their minds more than empathy, but the sport is changing and we can either go along or fall behind.
Anyone still applauding what Garvin did needs to realize football can be great without hits like that.