His upper lip was cut and swollen, his hip and neck were slightly tight and there was a large ice bag wrapped about his tender left knee. But Joe Theismann left no doubt yesterday as to his physical status for the NFL season opener next Sunday at New England.

"Wild horses," he said, "couldn't keep me away from this one."

It also is becoming increasingly obvious that Redskin Coach Jack Pardee will not keep him from starting against the Patriots, either. Though Pardee insisted yesterday he will not make any formal announcement, all signs point to Theismann over Billy Kilmer as the No. 1 quarterback.

Pardee did tip his hand on another significant lineup change. "There's a very good chance" Bob Kuziel will start at center ahead of veteran Leonard Hauss, Pardee said. Hauss, a 36-year-old former all-pro, had started 192 straight games for the Redskins going into the 1978 season.

Pardee said he would like to keep Hauss on the roster, along with center and snapping specialist Ted Fritsch. "Lenny's been all-pro," Pardee said. He's been a great one for a lot of years, a great team man, and we still need him on the team. I just don't know how the numbers will work yet. This is going to be a tough week."

For Theismann, Friday was a rough night as the Redskins lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 10-7 in the preseason finale. Scrambling late in the first half, he nearly had his head removed by Falcon linebacker Robert Pennywell, then twisted his left knee as he landed awkwardly on the turf following another Atlanta hit.

Theismann was at Redskin Park early yesterday for treatment and insisted, "I'll be practicing on Monday. I'm just doing everything the trainers are telling me to do. It's less than 24 hours after the injury and I've got full range of motion. It'll be a little sore, but it's nothing that could ever keep me from playing, not now."

Theismann, who completed 54 percent of his preseason passes with no interceptions, refused to speculate on Pardee's decision. "I wouldn't even begin to make an assessment," he said. I just feel like I've had my best preseason in eight years as a professional.

"I feel very good about it. Mentally, it's the best I've ever played and the physical part goes right with it --throwing where I want it, choosing the right receiver, not forcing things.

"I won't even consider the possibility (of not starting). And if the call goes my way, I'll be there. A lot of problems I've had here have been self-inflicted. There have been some misunderstandings, some misinterpretations. But I'm me.

"Maybe I say things I shouldn't say. But all I've ever wanted to do is play football. There's the potential for a championship team here. And as far as the guys responding to me, well, I hope they believe in me because I believe in them."

And from his comments yesterday, it appears that Pardee also is a believer in Theismann's abilities.

"He has a good arm and he's shown the composure to take what a defense gives him," Pardee said. "There have been very few occasions that he's gone and turned sandlot. It might not always be the bomb, but every defense gives up something and Joe's been good at having the patience to take it.

"That had been the only knock I'd heard on Joe that he improvised and did things that weren't sound. He hasn't done that. He's had a fine preseason.

"Billy's also played well. The big gest factor is that Bill's in good shape and ready to go -- mentally and physically. But I haven't completely made the decision, I'll do that before the next couple of days.

"We won't announce it. You'll have to tune in the television next sunday to know for sure."

The decision to go with Kuziel over Hauss, Pardee said, was also not yet absolute. "I have been very impressed with Kuziel," he said, "He's been one of the real big pluses for us in the preseason. He's demonstrated that he can play, and it's tough to keep him out of the lineup."

From the first day of training camp, however, it was apparent that Pardee and his staff were leaning in Kuziel's direction. He is younger (28), larger (255 pounds to 235), stronger, faster and has the same sort of leadership qualities that have made Hauss so invaluable.

Pardee is faced with a number of other vexing problems. He still has not made up his mind on a starting middle linebacker between Mike Curtis and Harold McLinton when the Redskins play their standard 4-3 defense.

How frequently Pardee employs the four-linebacker defense also remains to be seen. To keep the Patriots guessing the Redskins stayed mostly basic on defense against the Falcons and did not use their nickel defense.

"We want to have them wondering," Pardee said. "Will we be a 4-3 team or a 3-4 team? They'll have to spend extra practice time on preparing for both, and that helps us."

And then there are the personnel moves. Pardee must place seven players on no-recall waivers by 4 p.m. tomorrow. He may then add two players to reach the regular season limit of 45.

Pardee most likely will expose several of his older players to the waiver list gambling, as George Allen often did, that no one would claim a Ron McDole or a[WORD ILLEGIBLE] Hauss. That sort of maneuver would help protect more coveted younger players.

Pardee has made a decision to stay with four running backs for the New England game. He said that Tommy Reamon and Calvin Hill, both placed on waivers last week, "probably won't" be recalled by the Redskins "at least not this week. We came out with four healthy backs, and we should be all right there." We[WORD ILLEGIBLE] be bringing some other people in. There may be a trade."

At tight end, Jean Fugett is still limping on a bruised knee and Jim Mandich is hobbled by a sprained ankle. Neither played against Atlanta.

"I'm a little worried about Fugett," Pardee said. "If he's going to help us Sunday, he needs to be working the whole week. He needs the practice time. I don't know about Mandich elther. It just looks like we're going to have to count on Reggie Haynes to play.

"But I think overall we're ready for the regular season, at least we are physically, and that was a big concern for us. There are a lot of things we have to improve -- our tackling for one. But we're looking forward a good solid week of practice. I think our players are eager to get going. I know I am."

Chris Hanburger, the Redskins outside line linebacker and defensive signal-caller, was held out against the Falcons because of a sprained elbow and bruised knee "as a precautionary measure," Pardee said. He is expected to start at New England. Kilmer finished the preseason with 59 percent throwing accuracy, though he threw only 17 passes to Theismann's 76. Kilmer also had two passes intercepted . . . Clarence Harmon was the Redskins' leading preseason runner, with 114 yards and a five-yard per carry average. Mike Thomas averaged 2.6 yards, John Riggins 2.4 Harmon also led all receivers with 10 catches.