Cliche lovers and NFL True Believers might want to brace themselves for what follows: This year the name of the game was not defense; the team with the best players missed the playoffs; so did the two best coaches, Don Shula and George Allen. And the Monsters of the Midway hold hands these days.

You could look it up, Vince. The Atlanta Falcons set a record for fewest points allowed in a 14-game season and missed the playoffs by an acre. Couldn't break 500 in fact, because the offense couldn't wrinkle tinsel.

Football is a people game, righ? Even Stagg said so. Well, the team everyone said had the swiftest, strongest and most agile people, the Patriots, took an ego slip early and finished third in the AFC East.

"It's a 14-game season and a 60-minute game," said Ted Marchibroda. Well, yes and no. If it was a 60-minute game, or if the Bears-Giants game Sunday had been 60 minutes, the Redskins would be in the playoffs instead of crying in their eggnog.

"My checkbook was rooting for the Giants," the battered Redskin told a friend, "but my body was for the Bears."

Justice got thrown for a loss in Cincinnati, when the Oilers lost a game - and possibly a playoff berth - because an official called a touchdown a touchback, and in Baltimore Sunday on the infamous Bert Jones fumble seen by everyone but the person who mattered - referee Fred Silva.

"But what about Kunz?" Colt coach Marchibroda counters. "Nobody remembers that."

At a critical moment in the Colts' loss to Denver, with the offense in third-and-short, 30 yards from the goald line, tackle George Kunz was called for a head bob. It cost the Colts five yards - and Jones threw a pass that Tom Jackson intercepted and ran for a touchdown.

Later, Colt officials said, the NFL office admitted that films showed Kunz did not move his head, that the call was incorrect. Sorry about that, the league said - again.

"The Lord acts in mysterious ways," Steeler coach Chuck Noll said. But coaches are pretty predictable, with marchibroad right on cue in his assessment of the Colts' season.

"Nobody gave us a chance (to win the AFC East) before the season," he said, borrowing a page from the Allen Text of Inspiration. "Then when we're 9-1 everybody said we've got the thing Jocked up. Then when we're 9-4 we're written off again."

That is when Marchibroda offered his 14-game, 60-minute advice, the latter perhaps to remind the world that 2 1/2 minutes would have remained in the Patriots' game Sunday even if Silva had made the correct call, or enough time to force a punt and for the offense to move into position for a winning field goal.

Once again the Colts are in a familiar, unenviable playoff position - at home but against the defending Super Bowl champs. Last year it was the Steelers, who beat the Colts but who were themselves so beaten they lost the next week to the Raiders. This year, Saturday at 12:30 p.m., to be exact, it is the Raiders.

As usual, the Colts will give an arm, Jones', and a leg, Lydell Mitchell's, for the cause. And if the offense plays with the sort of hell-bent abandon it showed in the second half against New England instead of the no-dare effort of the previous two weeks, the Colts have a decent chance.

When Marchibroda was the Redskins' offensive coordinator, he was criticized for running Larry Brown too often.In '71, '72 and '73 Brown carried the ball 253, 285 and 273 times. In three years with the Colts, Marchibroda has Mitchell going at an even more rugged pace.

Mitchell has carried the ball 289, 289 and 301 times the last three years. That's just for warmup, though. He also has caught 60, 60 and 71 passes. In brief, this most effective of all all-purpose backs accounted for more than 1,750 yards each of the last three years - and more quietly than any pro back in memory.

"He's like a basketball player you which and figure scored about 17 points," marchibroda said. "But when you look at the stat sheet you see he has 35. He does everything so well, and with such ease."

"You watch him and figure he's got 55 yards on the ground, when he actually has 105. And of the three years, this has been his greatest.

"Before the season, we sat down and talked - and I told him I though he shouldn't run as much. And he agreed. Well, once the season started we started to use him more and more, and we just stopped talking about it."