Rarely does a network telecast of a National Football League game merit a citation for "telling it like it is," but Don Criqui's play-by-play of the Red-skins-Bills game from Buffalo Sunday on CBS was refreshingly honest.

Criqui was not afraid to characterize the Bill's play as appalling when it was, nor reluctant to point out that the nearly 60,000 empty seats at 80,000-capacite Rich Stadium in suburban Ochard Park were a direct result of ineptitude in the team's organazation.

He verbally rapped punter Marv Bateman for three indifferent kicks. And when the Bills, driving with the wind at their backs toward the Red skin end zone, with ample downs and two time-outs left, failed to call a time-out in the waning seconds of he first half - letting the clock run down from 38 to 11 seconds before trying a field goal that was blocked - Criqui was justifiably critical.

"It's just incredible that there can be this kind of disorganizationin a group of so-called professionals," he said earnestly, adding that "such incompetence" was at once astonishing and disturbing.

"It was absolutely inexcusable," Criqui said yesterday, defending his harsh but knowledge words. "They're professional athletes playing for allegedly professional coaches, purportedly out there to win and they're doing things a high school team wouldn't do."

Criqui said so on the air, and after he and color man Nick Buoniconti - who less articulately but just as candidly pronounced several Bill's decisions "just simply ridiculous" - had spent much of the first half marveling at the poor attendance.

As a camera sadly panned the vast, blue, three-quarters-empty arena - plaudits to the CBS director for that - Criqui explained the ticket-buying tendencies of Buffalo's citizens, with which he is thoroughly familiar, and concluded that it is a great football town when it has a respectable team to support.

"It was a story. This was the town expressing itself by staying away because it didn't like what was going on down on the field," reasoned Criqui, a Buffalo native and longtime sympathetic observer of his hometown team.

"I try to say what I think is right," he said. "If I was factually incorrect I'd expect criticism and deserev it, but I don't think I said anything incorrect . . . This is my 11th year done games for CBS and I've never once had anybody tell me to say anything other than what I think.