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So what really happened at the end of the Bucs-Redskins game? Was that really a fifth down TD pass?

Gano celebrates a made field goal, but he was easily the goat of the day by missing two early field goals. The missed XP wasn't his fault.
Gano celebrates a made field goal, but he was easily the goat of the day by missing two early field goals. The missed XP wasn't his fault.

As the Buccaneers were trying to stop the Redskins from scoring a game-tying touchdown, the referees seemingly messed up. The television coverage showed an incomplete pass on 4th&4, presumably meaning a turnover on downs for the Redskins. Well, no such luck. The Redskins got up to run another play on an unexplained extra play and scored a touchdown on a pass to Santana Moss. But with the game seemingly headed for overtime, the holder on the extra point couldn't get the ball down. The Redskins still trailed by one, and couldn't grab the onside kick. This preserved a win for the Bucs in rather ludicrous fashion. 

Right now, the play-by-play says that a pass that was a 9-yard completion apparently short of a first down was actually a 10-yard completion for a first down, explaining the missing down. So what really happened there? Did the Redskins get a fifth down?

The answer to that question is: yes and no. Here's the sequence of 5 plays that led to the touchdown that nearly killed the Bucs.

1-10-TB 12 (:49) (Shotgun) 5-D.McNabb pass short right to 13-A.Armstrong to TB 2 for 10 yards (41-C.Lynch)

With the ball at the Bucs 12-yard line and 49 seconds remaining, McNabb guns a pass to Anthony Armstrong down to the 3-yard-line, who looks like he's down short of the first down. The refs spot it at the 3-yard line, though and not at the 2-yard line as the play-by-play says right now. However, a first-down is given by the chain gang. Redskins call a timeout, then move on.

1-2-TB 2 (:32) 5-D.McNabb pass incomplete short right to 87-R.Williams

This play was run from the 3-yard-line, not the 2-yard-line. A fade to the corner of the endzone with Biggers in coverage is badly thrown, and Williams can't get close to it. He clamours for a pass interference call, but Biggers didn't even seem to touch him and no flag is thrown.

2-2-TB 2 (:28) 46-R.Torain right end ran ob at TB 6 for -4 yards (96-T.Crowder)

The Bucs close all the gaps and Torain has nowhere to go. Again, this play was actually run from the 3-yard-line. The play-by-play claims that Torain ran out of bounds, but Shanahan actually called a timeout there as Torain was down within the field of play.

3-6-TB 6 (:18) 5-D.McNabb pass incomplete short middle to 86-F.Davis

With a clean pocket, McNabb throws the ball on the money to Fred Davis, but he can't come down with it. Geno Hayes was right there, but couldn't make a play on the ball. The Redskins get up to run another play, and the chain gangs are conflicted on what down it actually is. The referees let them run the play. 

4-6-TB 6 (:13) 5-D.McNabb pass short middle to 89-S.Moss for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN

Santana Moss gets inside position on Ronde Barber and McNabb's pass is on the money. The Redskins score a touchdown on a confusing series of events. Luckily, the Extra Point attempt is gaffed up and their onside kick attempt is recovered by Maurice Stovall.


So what was the key here? It was the '10-yard pass' to Anthony Armstrong. That was a clear 9-yard pass to the 3-yard-line. The ball was snapped at the 12-yard-line. He was called down at the 3-yard-line. Clearly, that is not a first down. However, the chain gang had lined up at the 3-yard line on that play. Essentially, they spotted the Redskins a yard for the first down. This wasn't a bad spot, or an inexplicable first down call by the referees: it was a bad mistake by the chain gang on the first-down play. A bad play that should've been challenged by the replay booth, but wasn't. The Bucs were really lucky to win this game, but almost got robbed of a win by poor officiating. Instead, the Bucs are now 8-5 and with Green Bay's loss they're right back in the playoff race. 

I can't imagine the outrage if the Bucs had actually lost this game. This is a huge officiating gaffe, and this should never have happened. The Bucs were lucky it didn't bite them, but I know there are a lot of sports bettors out there who are less than pleased with this result.