GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jalen Hurts stood face-to-face with Patrick Mahomes after they went toe-to-toe in Super Bowl LVII.
Hurts had already showered and changed and was heading to his postgame interview in one of the tunnels under State Farm Stadium. Mahomes was still in uniform with a championship hat worn backward on his head and a few strands of confetti at his feet.
“Hell of a game,” Mahomes said as they embraced. “Hell of a game.”
The Chiefs quarterback’s comment was in reference to Hurts’ performance in his first NFL title game. But he just as easily could have been talking about the shootout between two explosive offenses in which the Eagles quarterback nearly matched the league’s MVP.
Mahomes, though, had the final say — at least until eight seconds were left — when kicker Harrison Butker’s 27-yard field goal capped a second-half rally and squeaked Kansas City past the Eagles, 38-35, on Sunday night.
If Mahomes, in his second MVP-winning Super Bowl victory, outplayed his counterpart, it was by the smallest of margins. But he had no turnovers and Hurts did — a second-quarter fumble that was returned for a touchdown — and that was a costly mistake.
“Obviously, I try and control the things that I can, not just the ball every play, so I just try and protect it,” Hurts said. “But, it hurt us.”
It wasn’t by any stretch the lone error the Eagles made, especially by their defense and punt cover unit in the second half. And Hurts was resilient, driving the offense to another touchdown on the ensuing drive and playing high-level football for the remainder of the evening.
He completed 27 of 38 passes for 304 yards and a touchdown. He rushed 15 times for a Super Bowl quarterback-record 70 yards and three touchdowns. And when the Eagles needed a two-point conversion to knot the score at 35 with just over five minutes remaining, he ran power left and lunged himself — despite a still-tender shoulder — over the goal line.
“Jalen played the best game I’ve seen him play,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said, “in the two years that we’ve been together.”
The numbers don’t do Hurts’ outing justice. He was accurate with his arm in the tense moments — two third-down tight-window tosses to tight end Dallas Goedert stood out — fleet of foot when the Eagles needed him on the ground, and never seemed out of his element in the biggest game of his career.
“If there were any doubters left there shouldn’t be now,” Mahomes said. “I mean, the way he stepped on this stage, and ran, threw the ball, whatever it took for his team to win. I mean, that was a special performance. I don’t want it to get lost in the loss that they had.”
The 24-year-old Hurts came within a whisker of becoming the first true dual threat to win a Super Bowl. Running quarterbacks have won before — see: Steve Young and Russell Wilson — but never one who was a plus-one factor in the run game.
The myth that those types of quarterbacks can’t thrive in the NFL had long been dispelled, but so was the notion that Hurts was a “system quarterback” who couldn’t carry an offense with his arm — long before Sunday’s game.
And yet, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, among others, continued to question his quarterbacking aptitude this season.
“I said I was proud of him,” said tackle Jordan Mailata, who put his arm on Hurts after his last fateful pass fell to the turf. “Everything he’s accomplished this year, everything he’s overcome — all the branding, things that people have been saying in the media. The guy threw for 300 yards, [rushed for] three touchdowns.
“Not bad for a system QB, right?”
There’s no denying that Hurts as a threat in the zone read, run-pass-run option game played a role in the Eagles’ offensive success once Sirianni decided midseason a year ago to cater the scheme to his mobility. It opened lanes for the running backs and kept defenses guessing.
It’s clearly sustainable, but once Hurts signs a contract extension, he’s no longer a quarterback playing on a second-round rookie deal. He’s the franchise and the Eagles will need to protect their investment. The shoulder injury he suffered on a designed run in Chicago shouldn’t be forgotten.
A deal somewhere in the $50 million-a-year department will also force general manager Howie Roseman to make some tough decisions with 20 pending free agents this offseason.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said center Jason Kelce, who said he will take some time before deciding if he will retire. “Obviously, the team is going to look pretty different next year. But I think the future is very bright for Jalen.”
There will also be change in the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen is reportedly slated to become the Colts’ next head coach, and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will interview for the Cardinals’ opening this week.
Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is the likely in-house replacement for Steichen. So Sirianni has some stability on his staff.
But the one constant will be the unflappable Hurts. He publicly handled the disappointment of the loss like a pro. He’s been down this road before, of course, having fallen short in the college national championship as a freshman, and then getting benched the following year when Alabama rebounded to win.
“You either win or you learn,” Hurts said when asked to describe his emotion on Sunday, “that’s how I feel.”
He’s known for his stoic demeanor, his “Jalen face,” which became a meme for how the coach’s son doesn’t alter his guise — win, lose or draw. But a few Eagles staffers referenced Hurts’ emotion in the locker room afterward when he apologized to the team for his fumble.
“I don’t do this to be loved. I don’t do this to be hated,” Hurts said when asked about the apology. “I don’t do this to seek anyone else’s approval. I do it for the guys in the locker room.”
Earlier, once the Eagles’ locker room opened, Hurts was initially absent. But he eventually showed up. And as cornerback James Bradberry took blame for his late-game holding penalty, as Kelce pulled confetti from his cleats after congratulating his brother, Travis, and as Eagles players, coaches, and staffers comforted each other, Hurts stood at his locker stall and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and his son, Julian, looked on.
“Awesome,” Lurie said of Hurts’ performance. “Can’t wait till next season with this guy. He’s special.”
Hurts eventually was escorted to the interview area and had to walk by the celebratory Chiefs’ locker room. Andy Reid’s wife, Tammy, hugged him. Linebacker Carlos Dunlap, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and Mahomes offered words of encouragement.
“I know he’s hurt,” Sirianni said, “and he’s hurting.”
On the surface he was the same emotionless Hurts. He chose his words carefully during his nine-minute news conference in which he fielded 13 questions. The last, from 14-year-old Giovanni Hamilton, an Eagles superfan who has Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, asked Hurts if there was a lesson to be learned for next season.
“Obviously, we had a big-time goal that we wanted to accomplish and we came up short,” Hurts said. “I think the beautiful part about it is everyone experiences different pains, everyone experiences different agonies of life, but you decide if you want to learn from it.
“You decide if you want that to be a teachable moment. I know I do.”
Hurts then walked out of the room, grabbed his belongings and walked toward the exit with Mailata. When he reached the buses, he made a detour toward A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, who were sitting on a golf cart waiting until the last second to board.
The quarterback shook each wide receiver’s hand, picked up his bag, and at 9:41 p.m. Mountain Time ascended the steps and departed for the team hotel, his future unwritten, but seemingly destined to return to this Super spectacle.