Colts think it's possible COVID-19 effects lingered on team, 'won't use that as an excuse'

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  • Chris Ballard
    American-football player (1969-)

INDIANAPOLIS — General manager Chris Ballard acknowledged Thursday that the decision of several key Colts to remain unvaccinated might have played a role in the team’s collapse in the final two games, after the virus ran through the team and forced Indianapolis to place at least 15 players on the COVID-19 list at one point or the other.

But Ballard wasn’t willing to place the blame for the Colts’ shocking losses to Las Vegas and Jacksonville to the team dealing with lingering effects from COVID-19.

“I won’t use that as an excuse,” Ballard said. “It hit us. It hit everybody. Everybody was dealing with it. I mean, I think it’s a possibility, maybe, but every team is dealing with it. It is what it is.”

Chris Ballard, Colts General Manager, pregame at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.
Chris Ballard, Colts General Manager, pregame at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.

A lot of the Colts’ key players — led by quarterback Carson Wentz, linebacker Darius Leonard, left guard Quenton Nelson and most of the offensive line — did not get vaccinated.

Although the impact of lost games was minimal due to the NFL’s decision late in the season to adopt new CDC guidance that allowed COVID-infected individuals to return from isolation after five days instead of 10, regardless of vaccination status, there have been some who wondered if lingering symptoms and effects of COVID-19 caused problems for the Colts down the stretch.

Ballard admitted Thursday that he wondered the same, acknowledging that although the team tried to follow the NFL’s protocols to the letter, the rise of the omicron variant made it harder to avoid the virus.

After a rash of COVID-19 cases during training camp, the Colts did not have a player test positive until Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly in early December, and then a flood of Colts tested positive at the same time that every major American sport faced disruptions because of positive tests.

“Damn right, it did,” Ballard said. “It sucked. I’ll give our guys credit. They worked their ass off at it. But at the end of the day, down the stretch, it got us. They worked hard to try to avoid it, but unfortunately, this new variant, you can try to avoid it all you want. It got us.”

Ballard, head coach Frank Reich and Colts owner Jim Irsay made it clear from the beginning of the season that the team wanted its players to be vaccinated, but under the NFL’s agreement with the NFL Player’s Association, teams could not mandate that players receive the vaccine. All coaches, front office members and support staff dealing with players were required to be vaccinated by the NFL.

“The unvaccinated part, would I rather everybody had been vaccinated? Absolutely. I thought we were pretty clear on that,” Ballard said. “But they chose not to, and they did all they could to avoid it. At the end of the day, it ended up getting us at the end.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts won't use COVID-19 effects as excuse for late collapse

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