Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said he would make a decision about his starting quarterback for Sunday's regular opener "quickly" but that no announcement would be made, adding: "New England might know but it won't be from me telling 'em."

In truth, as far as most fans and most Redskins are concerned, the announcement already has been made -- by Billy Kilmer, who admitted Friday night that the offense is designed for Joe Theismann and that Theismann runs it better at the moment.

"The concensus on the team is Joe," one player said, "though I'd hate to be in Jack's shoes."

Still, the most significant announcement seemed to come from Mike Thomas, who said that unless the runners and blockers get cracking on first down against the Pats Jurgensen and Baugh in their prime could not generate points.

"You've got to have success on first down," said Thomas. "Four or five yards each time. If you've got second and five or even second and six, you've got a real good chance to move the ball. On second and 10, you're not gonna do much.

"And we had more bad first-down plays (against the Atlanta Falcons) than the whole preseason. We've got to get more consistency on first down."

Or more positive consistency. Against a Falcon defense at least as good as the Patriots -- and probably superior -- the Redskins had first down 18 times and gained three yards or fewer 13 times.

The most productive first-down play of the 10-7 loss to the Falcons was the improvised 12-yard run by Theismann that ended with him suffering a twisted left knee after linebacker Robert Pennywell's neck tackle.

With Theismann on the ground, Redskin watchers considered the irony of Kilmer, who scarcely can walk without a limp, being the healthiest quarterback for the Pats' game.

With Theismann up and seemingly mended in about a minute, Redskin watchers considered the irony of Kilmer, who once had waved Theismann off the field during a game, being waved off the field himself.

Kilmer provided the only Redskin points, with a 30-yard floater with which Danny Buggs dashed 38 more yards for a touchdown during a dreadful Falcon defensive mixup. But Kilmer said of the offense that does not allow him to do what he does best -- think -- "I've adjusted, but not as good as Joe."

Thomas elaborated.

"It (sending plays from the sideline) seems to hurt Billy a bit. It's tough. He's thinking one thing and then something else comes in. After 16 years (of Kilmer calling his own plays), it's gotta be tough."

Theismann could have eliminated all doubt, about his opening at quarterback Sunday, about the Falcona possibly winning Friday, if he had not overthrown wide-open Frank Grant in the end zone or if he had seen John Riggins a few moments later.

"Riggins could have walked in (for a touchdown)," Theismann said. "It was a misinterpretation of the play on my part. It won't happen again."

Instead of throwing to Riggins on third and seven, Theismann overthrew Grant ever so slightly once again in the end zone from 20 yards. The quarterback was under extremely heavy pressure at the time. From which Falcons?

"I didn't catch all the numbers," he said.

And the Redskins didn't catch all the Falcons they should have. As Pardee said: "We could have won it if we'd have tackled.It looked like most of their (long-gain) runs came after missed tackles.

"I thought we'd have a shutout."

Last season the Redskin defense earned praise locally for allowing just 189 points in 14 games. The Falcons allowed 129 -- and Pardee said their defense is similar to the Patriots both in style and ferocity.

"The big thing is picking up the blitzes," he said. "And we've got to do that better. If you pick 'em up, you burn a defense. If you don't, you get sacked."

The coach was referring to the quarterback as well as the blockers. And Theismann left the game with bruises to his left knee, his lip and his pride. A superior performance against an excellent defense would have left no doubts about his gaining the position he so covets.

Theismann considered his career, being drafted by the Dolphins out of Notre Dame and opting for Canada and then being acquired by the Redskins in '74.

"It seems," he said, "that every five years we have to wait."