INDIANAPOLIS – The topic remains fresh, even after more than three months. The sting of a historic collapse, the incredible disappointment, the utter embarrassment with everything on the line.
You know, Jacksonville.
What the hell happened?
“I know everybody’s going to be asking about Jacksonville for a while,’’ Ryan Kelly said Wednesday afternoon. “Hell, it’s (three) months now and you’re still wrapping your brain about how that happened with the team we had.
“Wish I had a better answer for you.’’
As Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts began converging on the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center this week for the start of their offseason workout program, it was only natural for the new beginning of 2022 to at least touch on the ugly ending of ’21.
But the beauty of the NFL is it demands a team turn the page as quickly as the psyche allows. Hoist the Lombardi Trophy, wonder how it all went so terribly wrong or reside somewhere in between, it’s imperative to move on.
Teams either get better or worse. Status quo really isn’t an option.
It’s difficult to argue the Colts aren’t a better team than the one left in disarray following the 26-11 loss to the worst-team-in-the-league Jaguars Jan. 9.
“We have high hopes,’’ defensive end Kwity Paye said, “and the GM is making a lot of moves in the offseason. He’s fixing the team up for us to go far.’’
The transformational offseason has featured:
- trading quarterback Carson Wentz to Washington.
- replacing him with Matt Ryan via trade with the Atlanta Falcons.
- adding edge pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to Gus Bradley’s defense via a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.
- signing 2019 Defensive Player of the Year/cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Owner Jim Irsay, who insisted this was an all-chips-in moment for the franchise, put his money behind Ballard’s actions. Consider the guaranteed money invested in Ryan, Ngakoue and Gilmore: roughly $81 million.
“Of course I feel that way,’’ Frank Reich said. “I really do because of the collective pieces that we added. You add two marquee players on defense. I mean marquee players, proven production at a high level. That right there, I mean, that right there, I can’t even tell you (the significance).
“As Chris and I have talked, I’m like, ‘You get Matt Ryan and a great defense, and we’re good. We’re good. We’ll figure it out.’ I’m just confident we’re going to be good on offense. We already had a good defense, and now we just added two marquee players and a marquee quarterback.’’
Ryan is heading into his 15th season and turns 37 next month. He ranks in the top-10 in NFL history in yards (59,735, 8th), touchdowns (367, 9th) and completion percentage (65.5%, 9th), but the Falcons gave him a defense ranked 15th or better just twice in 14 seasons, and not since 2017 (9th overall).
“I feel good about this team,’’ Reich said. “I’m excited about Matt Ryan.’’
There have been occasional phone calls since the March 21 trade, but this week is the first time Reich and Ryan have had an opportunity to sit and really discuss what’s to come. In three meetings, Ryan’s input already has resulted in Reich tweaking the offense 10%.
“Really just getting a couple of days to meet with him . . . wow, he’s an impressive guy,’’ Reich said. “Really diving into his film from Atlanta, seeing all the things he has done great over his career.
“The more I look at his career over 14 years, the more I realize, wow. I knew this guy was a great player, but I think he’s had a special career in many regards.’’
Clearly, optimism flowed as the Colts opened their bounce-back offseason program. That’s almost always the case.
But clearly, the stain of 2021 will take some serious scrubbing to eradicate.
And on some level, that stain serves as a reminder of what can happen if things – from personnel and mental standpoints – aren’t corrected.
The first week of the offseason program focuses on conditioning as well as a get-acquainted period for players and coaches. Reich’s first address in a full-team setting will be next Monday.
“Really it comes, ‘Okay, this is a fresh start. What are our objectives?’’’ he said.
But it’s important to remember the unsightly launching point for 2022.
“We have a unique amends,’’ Reich said, “but there are 31 teams that need to make amends because none of us reached the ultimate goal except for one team. So, the rest of us are trying to get there, and ours was unique the way it ended, so are we trying to right the ship? Of course we are.
“As we said last year, that scar (of losing) will be there, and I’m reminded of it every day. You look at it and you say, ‘I remember when I got that cut.’ You look at a scar and say, ‘That didn’t feel good when I got that. I prefer not to feel that again, so let’s try to avoid that the next time.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.