Officials got let off the hook for this one.
With 2:33 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Giants leading 31-24, Kirk Cousins took a shotgun snap on second-and-4 from the Minnesota 18-yard line. Giants pass rusher Dexter Lawrence got immediate pressure and hit Cousins as the Vikings quarterback still had the ball.
Cousins got rid of the ball before Lawrence dragged him to the turf. A yellow flag then hit the field.
Officials called Lawrence for roughing the passer. Instead of third-and-4 at the Minnesota 18, the Vikings faced first-and-10 at the 33 needing a touchdown to tie the game. Giants head coach Brian Daboll was livid — and rightfully so.
Lawrence had Cousins in his grasp while Cousins still had possession of the ball. He didn’t drive him to the turf or land on top of him with his weight. He didn’t hit him high. He didn’t hit him low. The culprit appears to be a glancing blow from Lawrence’s arm to Cousins’ facemask as he made contact.
That incidental and cursory contact had the potential to impact the outcome of a playoff game. Fortunately for the NFL, it didn’t. The Vikings picked up 15 more yards after the penalty before turning the ball over on downs on a fourth-and-8 completion that came up short of the sticks.
The Giants held on for a 31-24 win to advance to a divisional-round matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. And the NFL doesn’t have to answer a spate of controversy over why officiating and hard-to-navigate roughing rules influenced the outcome of a playoff game.