Growing pains or signs of bigger issues?

Those are a couple of the questions that the Indianapolis Colts have to come to terms with heading into the offseason.

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Indianapolis' 2014 season came to an embarrassing end Sunday night with a 45-7 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

The Colts made some progress this season, advancing all the way to the AFC title game, winning a second straight AFC South crown and posting a third straight 11-5 regular-season won-loss record.

But the loss to New England marked the second straight year that the season ended at Gillette Stadium. It was also the fourth straight one-sided loss to the Patriots since the start of the 2012 season.

"It's obviously, a very disappointing loss. We ran into an outstanding football team that played extremely well in all three phases. They got us really early on. They kind of had us on our heels (with their) tempo. (In) situational football they played well, we didn't," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano admitted.

"Third down, red zone we had issues stopping the run. We did not do that. We couldn't get off the field on third down."

Pagano and his coaching staff tried to make some adjustments at halftime, but the Patriots just proved to be too tough.

"I felt like we got things kind of calmed down and then they exploded for a bunch of points and we had no answers on offense in the third quarter, so it's obviously a very disappointing loss," the Colts' coach said.

"Nobody wants to end their season that way, but like I told the team, we'll learn from this, we'll grow from this and go to work to try to make 2015 better than 2014."

Did Indianapolis show improvement over the course of the past season? Pagano says yes.

"We took another step forward. I'm very, very proud of the coaches and very proud of the players. They took another step in the right direction and I don't think anyone ever envisioned us getting to this point," he said.

"So I'm very proud of the guys for what they accomplished this season and the things that they overcame."

But how tough is it to end the season in such a one-sided game?

"It's hard because it is the last game and you don't have another Sunday to look forward to, to go back to work and prepare and get that taste out of your mouth," Pagano explained.

"We will try to learn from it. We have to learn from it. We have to grow and find some answers, obviously. We're well aware of the fact that we need to go to work and find some answers to get over the hump to take that next step, to reach our ultimate goal to try to find a way to win a football game like this."