It wasn’t the defining mistake for the 49ers by any stretch, but it was a microcosm of the night.
With 11:28 left in the third quarter and San Francisco trailing 13-12, Kyle Shanahan threw the red challenge flag. The problem was, there didn’t seem to be anything worth challenging.
The Colts had just converted on third down. Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor fumbled before being tackled, but the Colts recovered the ball, clearly past the third down marker.
What followed was a bizarre scene. Shanahan appeared to tell the officials that he actually didn’t want to challenge anything. The refs then appeared to signal as if Shanahan would be able to take back the challenge and not lose a timeout. Eventually, it was ruled that Shanahan could not take back the challenge, the refs did an obligatory look at the play and docked the 49ers a timeout.
So what happened? Shanahan chalked it up to a combination of miscommunication and equipment malfunction.
“That was a mess-up by us,” Shanahan admitted postgame. “I didn’t see it at all. I’m looking down, looking at the stuff. We knew that there was a fumble, everyone was yelling that there was a fumble and to throw [the challenge flag]. It’s very weird but the headsets completely went out and that’s why if you guys see me sitting there talking to the guys, I threw it cause we thought it was a fumble but I can’t get ahold of anybody.
“[The officials] were going to give it back to me, they said it was alright. But the NFL called and said I had to stick with it. Once we talked to them we knew we were kind of screwed on it.”
Ultimately, it didn’t matter much. The 49ers lost 30-18, and now find themselves in danger of letting their season go off the rails.