PHILADELPHIA -- The melodrama that haunts the Indianapolis Colts already read like bad Hollywood fiction after three weeks of the season:
The grizzled coach was under siege.
The hot-shot quarterback was under the gun.
The recalcitrant running back was under suspension.
Into that boiling pot stepped Jack Trudeau yesterday, cool, calm and protected.
It was somehow fitting that Trudeau, a backup quarterback, would provide momentary relief in the Colts' season of angst. Indianapolis' 24-23, come-from-behind victory over the staggering Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium was clearly a study in role reversal.
Who would have thought Trudeau, a five-year journeyman, would out-quarterback Randall Cunningham, the Eagles' all-world talent?
Indeed, who, after four weeks, would have thought the Colts (1-3) and Eagles (1-3) would share the same rung in NFL oblivion?
Certainly not Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, whose five-year plan suddenly is shrouded in smoke.
"I've been in this business a long time," the craggy Ryan said, "and this is the worst loss . . . It was a terrible loss."
That's saying something because two weeks ago, the Eagles let another NFL lightweight -- the Phoenix Cardinals -- register its first win of the season. That game came down to a late field goal. This one came down to an improbable 82-yard touchdown drive that covered the final 1:51 of the game.
Eagle angst? Trudeau threw a tying, 6-yard touchdown pass to Bill Brooks as time expired in the fourth quarter. Then Ryan looked on in utter despair as Dean Biasucci drilled the extra point that deep-fried the Birds.
Trudeau was making his 34th NFL start -- he has a 13-21 record -- because Jeff George was nursing a strained abdominal muscle. George was the first pick in the NFL draft last spring. After one game -- a loss, no less -- Colts general manager Jim Irsay suggested that George's uniform number might have to be retired one day. One week later, George threw four interceptions.
So it goes with $12 million phenoms who are forced to play before their time. Embattled coach Ron Meyer, whose job was pronounced safe only this week by Jim Irsay, conceded he'd likely stick with Trudeau next week when the Colts face Kansas City.
"I'd hate to change [quarterbacks] right now," Meyer said. "Other than that, I don't think Jeff George is totally healed. We'll use George as a backup. Our biggest concern all along was Jack hanging tough. He took some shots."
The Eagles feature one of the fiercest pass rushes in the league. And the Colts already were hurting at quarterback. They had three injured in a 24-10 loss at Houston. Trudeau (concussion, bruised left hand) was deemed the fittest.
As it turned out, the Colts' inferior offensive line kept all but Reggie White (three sacks) off Trudeau. This from the same offensive line that was criticized by recalcitrant Eric Dickerson last summer when he decided he wouldn't play in Indianapolis any longer.
The Colts didn't need Dickerson yesterday because Trudeau looked like John Elway in the two-minute drill and the Eagles looked like patsies.
The Eagles, 13-point favorites, had a chance to put the game away late in the fourth quarter. They had a first down on the Indy 15. But as was the case most of the afternoon, they couldn't land the knockout punch. They settled for Roger Ruzek's third field goal of the game, a 31-yarder, and a 23-17 lead.
The Colts got the ball back on their own 18 with 1:51 to play. With 1:42 to play, they were on their own nine.
"With three timeouts, I thought we had enough time," said Trudeau.
He did. Enough time for an Elway impersonation.
Trudeau hit Brooks for passes of 27 and 11 yards to get out of the hole. He found Stanley Morgan for 14 yards. Slowly, methodically, the Colts moved down the field. A 6-yard toss to Brooks on fourth down kept the drive alive. A dropped interception by William Frizzell at the Eagle seven just one play later was equally critical.
On third-and-15, Trudeau hit Brooks for 15 yards for another first down at the six.
After an incompletion, he went to Brooks again -- the sixth time in the drive -- for the touchdown. Brooks made a diving catch in the end zone. Tight end Pat Beach, the primary receiver on the play, had been covered and Brooks improvised his route for the improbable conclusion.
In their September of torment, this was a much-needed reprieve for the Colts.
"A lot of veterans were thinking, how long will this [losing] go on?" said Trudeau, who was 19-for-40 for 329 yards and two TDs. "It was as big as any win I've been involved in with this football team."
A big win, indeed, and a landmark victory to most in the Colts locker room.
"I don't think we've ever won a game in these circumstances while I've been here," Colts linebacker Duane Bickett marveled. "Not where you get the ball with two minutes left and have a John Elway type drive.
"[But] Jack took it and won the game."