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Eagles' unquestioned leader Jalen Hurts owns his role in narrow Super Bowl loss to Chiefs

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At the end of the night, with most of the Philadelphia Eagles already sitting silently in their bus seats, Jalen Hurts walked through a parking lot alone. He had been superb in the Eagles' agonizing 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. His coach, Nick Sirianni, had said his four-touchdown performance -- three rushing, one passing -- was the best game Hurts had played in the two years they had been together. Even Patrick Mahomes had said there should be no doubters left about Hurts.

But in the first moments in Philly's locker room, as confetti rained down on the NFL's nascent dynasty, Hurts had told his teammates that the loss was on him, because of a second-quarter fumble when Hurts simply dropped the ball as he was trying to shift it between his hands, and Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton returned it for a touchdown. That play had not lost the game. The defense did not sack or even put much pressure on Mahomes, despite an aggravation of his high ankle sprain just before halftime. And Sirianni admitted that Andy Reid and his staff were better at adjusting than the Eagles had been. He would watch the tape to see all the things that went wrong, he said.

Hurts, though, tried to own his role in the loss, even though he was also very much the reason the Eagles came oh-so-close to winning.

"I always hold myself to a very high standard in everything I do," the 24-year-old said. "Obviously, I try to control the things I can. I touch the ball on every play. I want to protect it. It hurt us. You never know what play it will be.

"I don't do this to be loved. I don't do this to be hated. I don't do this to seek anybody else's approval. I do it for the guys in the locker room. I do it for all the time we invested in this. I do it for the thrill and love of something that we put work into. It is a tough feeling to come up short. But I know the only direction is to rise and that will be the mentality going forward. We'll sit back and reflect on it and learn from it.

"I've already challenged everyone to think about those things," he continued. "Look yourself in the mirror and be able to learn from everything. You either win or you learn."

The Eagles dominated the first half, and they had a 10-point lead with Mahomes wincing in pain just before the teams went to the locker room. The Chiefs' offense had mustered just one touchdown drive. Their only other points came from the fumble return, and the Eagles had already weathered that. But there was a decided shift in the second half. Kansas City ran the ball, and Philadelphia could not stop it, allowing 119 rushing yards in the second half. And while Mahomes passed for less than 100 yards over the final two quarters, he was never sacked, and on the Chiefs' final drive, he took off on a 26-yard scramble, bad ankle and all. It put the Chiefs in field-goal range, and all that was left for them to do was manage the clock.

"We just couldn't get off the field," said veteran Eagles defender Brandon Graham.

And that meant Hurts was stuck on the bench, limiting the damage he could do with his legs and arm. He threw for 304 yards and one touchdown and ran for 70 yards and three scores, the final of which helped tie the game with five minutes left after Hurts also ran in the two-point conversion. Hurts is stoic in public, rarely revealing his emotions. But he was downcast on Sunday night, picking at the skin on one of his fingers, nearly choking up as he talked about his teammates. Philadelphia had the luxury of having a core four -- four veteran leaders who had won the Eagles' first Super Bowl title five years ago. Their time may be over now, though, as they mull retirement and free agency. Hurts is the unquestioned leader of the Eagles. He was a revelation this season, one whose rapid development nearly made him the league's MVP and very nearly won the Eagles a second Lombardi Trophy. The faith the Eagles have in him is obvious. On the first offensive play after his fumble, Philly called a designed run for Hurts that went for 14 yards. Hurts said he wasn't even thinking of the fumble by then -- he takes each play individually.

"I don't think we know what Jalen's ceiling is," Sirianni said. "He left it all out there. He led us to 35 points. I told him I was happy for him. It wasn't just this game. It was the entire season."

The Eagles are likely to be a different team next season, and Graham agonized that he could not help give another title to some of the players who might be gone. There will be many hours spent among Philadelphia's faithful fans wondering if the Eagles should have blitzed more, or how the league's most dominant pass rush could be negated by quick throws and chipping, or how different things might have been had James Bradberry not been called for defensive holding on the Chiefs' final drive.

The one who will remain for a very long time, who will give the Eagles more chances at a Super Bowl, took a final question from a 15-year-old reporter named Giovanni Hamilton, who has his own podcast and is a diehard Eagles fan. Hurts had appeared on the podcast, but as soon as he saw Hamilton, he smiled and said he'd never met him in person before. Hamilton asked Hurts for a lesson he had learned that he would take from this setback. Hurts looked Hamilton in the eye throughout his response.

"You want to cherish these moments with the people you have come so far with -- your family, your loved ones, your teammates," Hurts began. "I'm so proud of this team for everything we've been able to overcome. Obviously, we had a big-time goal we wanted to accomplish and we came up short. The beautiful part is everyone experiences different pains, everyone experiences different agonies in life. But you decide if you want to learn from it. You decide if that is a teachable moment. I know what I'll do."

And the Eagles, deprived of a Super Bowl championship, should at least know what they've got.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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