There were no excuses for how the season ended.
Less than a week removed from the Colts' 26-11 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, general manager Chris Ballard was blunt in how he viewed the way his team's season ended.
"I won't sit up here and make excuses of why we got our a-- beat in Jacksonville, because that's what happened," Ballard said. "We got our a-- beat. It happens."
Reflecting on the 2021 season as a whole, though, Ballard pointed to the Colts having plenty of opportunities to win close games and coming up short, leaving them in a win-and-in position heading into Week 18's trip to Jacksonville. The Colts lost one-score games against the Rams in Week 2, the Ravens in Week 5, the Titans in Week 8, the Buccaneers in Week 12 and the Raiders in week 17.
"I know Jacksonville was a bad loss but there were other opportunities during the season that we had a chance to finish it out and we didn't," Ballard said. "We finished 2-5 in one-score games. A little bit of that is random when you kind of look at the history of it. But you gotta come out on top of and finish with a better record in one-score games. Ultimately it falls on my shoulders. And it's something that we'll go to work and ask some very hard, tough questions over the next month, month and a half."
The Colts will "look at everything" to address their passing game.
On Monday, head coach Frank Reich said the Colts' passing offense in 2021 was "definitely below our standards, and there's multiple reasons for that." Ballard on Thursday echoed that assessment about a season in which the Colts finished 19th in yards per pass (6.5), 24th in completion percentage (62.2 percent) and 26th in net yards (3,361).
"I won't make a comment on who's going to be here next year and who's not going to be here next year," Ballard said. "That's not fair. It's not fair to any player. I thought Carson (Wentz) did some good things. And there's a lot of things that he needs to do better. You know, our passing game has to be better."
Ballard said "we'll look at everything" regarding the future of the Colts' quarterback position.
"Over the last four years, we've been in the playoffs twice, we've only won one playoff game, we haven't won a division title. It's not good enough," Ballard said. "Not good enough. We haven't done it, we haven't completed it. At the end of the day, I think we got a lot of really good players and really good pieces.
"You've got to get stability at the quarterback position. You have to. We have to have stability there. And that position has to play up to his potential to help the team win.
"And don't get me wrong here, don't sit here — I ain't blaming all this on Carson. Alright? I'm not. Because everybody else has gotta do their jobs too. But the hyper-importance of that position, I mean, it's real. It's real. And you got to get consistency there. And the years we've gotten it, we've been pretty good and we thought we had it until the end of the season. So it's something we gotta continue to work through."
Ballard believes the right people are in place to fix the Colts' issues.
After landing in Indianapolis following Sunday's loss to the Jaguars, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay summoned Ballard and Reich to his office to explain how the 2021 season came crashing down in such disappointing fashion. Ballard appreciated the direct nature of the meeting – and the reasons why he believes the Colts can overcome their 2021 demise begins with the team's owner.
"Jim wants to win," Ballard said. "Work for a great owner, man. He cares about this city, wants to do well, he's competitive, he's prideful. And I handled an a---chewing well because I promise you, as hard as he is on me, I'm every bit as hard. And I don't run away when I screw it up or I have problem. I got to fix it. It's okay to sit up here and admit when you're wrong but, freak, you gotta go fix the damn thing or they'll find somebody else to fix it."
Ballard, too, appreciates Reich's coaching and leadership in fielding three teams with winning records over the last four years while having four different starting quarterbacks.
"He's a good football coach," Ballard said. "We really only had the one losing season at 7-9, which was my doing, not his. We've had a different quarterback every year and we still find a way to be really competitive and a good football team. So I think he's really good, really good as a head coach. And I think anybody that questions that – this guy's good, man.
"He's a leader, he has a plan, he's flexible, he's aggressive but also knows when to dial it back. Lucky to have him. We're lucky. Trust me, we're lucky to have Frank Reich."
There is a good roster in place to fix these issues, too.
"It's not like we're in a startup, we got to start over here," Ballard said. "I mean, we got a lot of good players on both sides of the ball and a lot of them coming back."
Here's how Ballard broke down the nucleus of talent that continued to develop through the 2021 season:
"The left tackle is what the left tackle is — I mean, we short-term fixed it," Ballard said. "We still got to be looking for a long-term solution there. And if we have to short-term fix it again because a long-term solution doesn't show up, that's what we'll do. But I feel good about our offensive line going forward.
"Tight end position needs work depending on what Jack (Doyle) does. Mo (Alie-Cox) is up, and we like Mo, like to get Mo back. And then we like a young kid in Kylen (Granson) who we thought showed some things and he'll continue to grow.
"And at wideout, we'll kind of see how things shake out. But we do got some young players here and Michael Pittman, we think he's going to continue to get even better as we go forward. We like our runners.
"On defense, we've gotta add to the defensive line, gotta have eight. We got good linebackers, I feel good about that. The injury to (Julian) Blackmon, that hurt, that stung because Blackmon was playing good ball.
"... And then at corner, you're always looking to add at corner but I think our guys, they played good football. Rock (Ya-Sin) took another step, thought Isaiah (Rodgers) grew up, Kenny Moore had a really good season, probably didn't play his best ball at the end but he played really good football.
"So the cupboard's not bare."
The Colts will evaluate every aspect of their roster in the next few weeks and determine what needs to be addressed through free agency and the draft. But Ballard and his staff will stick to their plan as they move forward from a disappointing end to the season and work to make sure something like it never happens again.
"We won't run from the failure," Ballard said. "What we'll do is grow from it. Your greatest moments of growth and anything you do in your life come from failure. They don't come from your successes.
"It's easy when it's sunny outside. I promise you, it is easy. That's when, oh (shoot), everybody shows up when it's sunny, everybody jumps on board. But when you have a moment of failure is when you really find out who's with you internally, if what you're doing is right — and we'll examine all of that. But you can also have your greatest moments of growth if you use them.
"But you have to use them, you have to accept who you are. We're a 9-8 football team. That's who we are. I put that team together and that falls on my shoulders."