The Washington Redskins got possession of the football with 2:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing by a touchdown in what would prove to be a decisive drive, win or lose.
Starting at their own 20-yard line, the offense converted a first down on a fourth-down pass to tight end Logan Paulsen, moving the ball to their 36-yard line.
On the ensuing first down, Robert Griffin III hit Pierre Garcon for five yards, bringing up 2nd-and-5 at the 41-yard line. On the next play, Griffin III found No. 88 again, and the veteran receiver appeared to have a first down.
The down marker on the sidelines confirmed this, at least initially. The clock continued to roll.
Griffin III and the offense hustled to the line, and RG3 slung a deep pass to tight end Fred Davis that fell incomplete. No matter, it was 2nd-and-10 from the 45.
Except that it wasn't.
After initially marking the second Garcon reception a first down, the officiating crew changed its mind without measurement or reflecting the change in the markers.
Shanahan wanted the measurement right away after the Garcon reception, but was told it would not be necessary.
"I told him I wanted a measurement because I knew it was close," he recanted for the media after the game. "It was inches, and he said, 'You don't have to [measure]; it's a first down.' I saw it was a first down on the other side and he signaled to move the chains on our side."
"Then, after I saw it was fourth down, I asked him, 'You already told me it was a first down.' It was quite disappointing."
The Redskins went for it on fourth down and Griffin III hit Garcon for a six-yard gain, converting the first down. However, Garcon was stood up by defenders and fumbled the football, effectively ending the game.
Shanahan said the team's play call was understandably affected by the miscommunication with officials.
"You're not going to call a quick hitch on fourth-and-inches," he said. "Obviously, it's going to affect our play call."
A Washington pool reporter caught up with referee Jeff Triplette after the game and asked him about the sequence of events, starting with Garcon's second completion.
"It was complete there at the sideline but not a first down," he said. "We signaled third down on the field. The [down marker] stakes were previously incorrect.
"After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The stakes just got moved incorrectly."
With human officiating comes human error, and the NFL has a policy in place to correct incorrectly moved chains. However, given the lack of a timeout for the Redskins, the officials deemed it an "unfair advantage" to stop the clock.
"Normally, if it's outside the two [minute warning], we would shut the play down in that situation," Triplette explained. "But there were no timeouts in that situation.
"We just didn't shut it down in that situation because that would have given an unfair advantage."
When the pool reporter asked about the misleading conversation Shanahan had with the sideline official, Triplette declined comment.
"I can't respond to that. I don't know what happened," he said. "I just know that we signaled third down on the play at the sideline, made it third.
"I feel like we signaled third down. The staked just got moved incorrectly."
For Griffin III, that explanation wasn't good enough.
"If the sticks say first down, it's first down," he told the media. "Coach [Shanahan] called that play [to Davis] thinking it was 1st-and-10. I'd get a nice shot down the middle of the field.
"He called it, we ran it and you can't fault [Shanahan]."
Veteran receiver Santana Moss weighed in on the team's bad luck with close and controversial calls this season, stating that his teammates needs to do a better job avoiding judgment calls.
"We can't rely on the refs," he said. "All year, we haven't been getting anything [in our favor]. At the end of the day, we can't rely on them to call the game for us because it has never gone in our favor."