The NFL's first Sunday of replacement games received a mixed verdict from television viewers: Ratings were down, but not out. Stadiums around the country may not have been full, but those who stayed home still watched games on TV in relatively large numbers.

The overall ratings decline was 29 percent from Sept. 20, the last week that regular NFL games were played.

The numbers were strong enough that the networks will not be abandoning games yet. If replacement games are played again next Sunday, NBC Sports said yesterday it would televise them. CBS Sports, which will announce its decision today, also is expected to televise them.

"The ratings levels were about what we expected," said NFL spokesman Joe Browne. "It was not business as usual, but the networks were televising National Football League games and people responded."

Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie told United Press International in New York: "I don't think because television ratings and attendance were down this week that they'll be down next week . . . What you might see next week is attendance pick up and ratings pick up. Fans will watch competitive games if they know it counts."

In Nielsen's overnight ratings of the nation's largest markets, these were the numbers: NBC's games Sunday averaged an 11.7 rating (percentage of TV homes tuning in), down 9 percent from its rating Sept. 20, the last week that regular NFL games were played. CBS' early-game average Sunday was 15.0, down 19 percent from Sept. 20. Its late-game average -- the networks rotate week to week on doubleheaders -- was only 10.7, down 49 percent from Sept. 20. ABC, which broadcast the Detroit Tigers-Toronto Blue Jays game that decided the American League East title, got a 5.9 rating, meaning that CBS' and NBC's replacement football combined to outdraw the baseball by about a 4-to-1 margin.

While the ratings were down nationwide, some markets -- Washington, Denver, Dallas and Chicago, in particular -- held up remarkably well. In Washington, one of every three TV homes was tuned to the Redskins-St. Louis Cardinals game on CBS and seven of every 10 homes watching TV were watching the Redskins. The Redskins' rating here Sunday was 34.0, down less than 6 percent from Sept. 20, when the Redskins played the Atlanta Falcons.

Hardest hit by the replacement schedule was the second game of CBS' doubleheader. It was a marquee matchup in normal times -- Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Jets. It was hurt perhaps by a couple of factors: ABC's pennant-race baseball game and the possibility that many viewers were willing to watch their home team in the early game, but were unwilling to watch a generic second game in which they had little rooting interest.

Despite the defection of many major sponsors -- many automakers and fast-food chains withdrew advertisements Sunday -- the networks are willing to test viewership over another week of replacement action.

"We're going to do football {this week}, that's for sure," said NBC Sports' executive producer, Michael Weisman. "My sense is that the first week there would be a high curiosity factor, and that the true test would be week two of the substitute games . . . {Poor stadium attendance} clearly hurts the TV audience. The feeling is -- if the people in that home city don't care enough to go, why should I watch at home?"

"The numbers for the games were substantially better than we expected," said CBS Sports spokesperson Susan Kerr. "Home markets continued to watch themselves winning . . . People might not have gone to the expense of going to the games, but there's no investment to watching it on television. They're home, and they're going to watch the games."