The chief negotiators representing labor and management met for at least five hours yesterday at Gene Upshaw's home in Great Falls, Va., but 37 more National Football League players decided not to wait for a settlement and returned to work.

The total number of players who have crossed their teammates' picket line since the NFL Players Association went out on strike 16 days ago reached 129. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and at least 13 of his teammates returned to the club yesterday in time to pick up this week's paychecks and be eligible for Sunday's games. New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor also reported for work, then left again.

Club and league officials were split on whether the two sides can reach agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement in time for the regular teams to take the field this weekend. If they cannot, replacement teams will play for the second week.

Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, and Jack Donlan, executive director for the NFL Management Council, began negotiating one-on-one in mid-morning and continued until 4 p.m.

John Jones, a Management Council spokesman, said Upshaw and Donlan did not meet last night but talked by phone shortly before midnight . He said they agreed to resume bargaining around 10 a.m. today.

According to the Management Council statement, Donlan and Upshaw talked about injury grievance procedure, non-injury grievance procedure, commissioner discipline, injury protection, and safety and welfare. Free agency was not discussed, both sides agreed.

The NFLPA said that, in addition to the areas the Management Council said were discussed, "they touched on guaranteed contracts and player representative protection," two of the union's original eight bargaining priorities. The union said Upshaw and Donlan "actually covered 13 articles and two attendencies" and added that Upshaw was "encouraged by today's talks and feels progress is being made." Upshaw and Donlan were unavailable for further comment.

Donlan had said in an earlier interview that he hoped the pressure would mount on the players, who would in turn pressure Upshaw to reach an agreement. But a management source indicated that several owners also were pushing for the regular games to resume as soon as possible, possibly by this weekend.

Several players took matters into their own hands and returned to their teams without waiting for a settlement. Of the 37 union players who went back to work, 13 were 49ers, four were St. Louis Cardinals and three were Dallas Cowboys. There were still 10 teams, including the Washington Redskins, who had no active regular players in camp.

Veteran tight end Russ Francis was the first of the 49ers to cross the picket line and he was followed by Montana, receiver Dwight Clark, running backs Roger Craig, Joe Cribbs and Harry Sydney, cornerback Eric Wright, defensive end Dwaine Board, linebackers George Cooper, Kevin Dean and Jeff Fuller, tight end Ron Heller and defensive lineman Pete Kugler. It was unclear whether place kicker Ray Wersching and punter Max Runager had returned.

At Valley Ranch in Dallas, defensive tackle Kevin Brooks reported and said he was doing so largely because he stood to lose $250,000 in deferred payments. Running back Robert Lavette and receiver Karl Powe also crossed the picket line.

Other players who went back to work yesterday included New England Patriots place kicker Tony Franklin and running back Elgin Davis; Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long and cornerback Lester Hayes; Indianapolis quarterback Blair Kiel, nose tackle Scott Keller and tight end John Brandes; New York Jets center Joe Fields; Cleveland Browns defensive end Carl Hairston; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Frank Pollard; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Eddie Edwards; Buffalo Bills running back Carl Byrum and defensive back Durwood Roquemore; Green Bay Packers linebacker Bobby Leopold; Minnesota Vikings tight end Mike Mularkey and defensive end Mark Mullaney; Miami Dolphins cornerback Liffort Hobley; St. Louis Cardinals tackle Tootie Robbins, punter Greg Cater, linebacker Charlie Baker and guard Mike Morris.

Even with those defections, more than 90 percent of the union's almost 1,600 members remain on strike, seeking improved pension benefits, increased team roster size, guaranteed contracts and protection for union representatives among other things. But there are some concerns that the teams who have had players dissent will have problems within the team for the rest of the season, perhaps longer.

Doug Cosbie, union representative for the Cowboys, met with 18 union members including Tony Dorsett, who felt he was unfairly forced across the picket line by club management last week. Cosbie said the Cowboys had been branded by the union as one of the five weakest teams. "We need to stay together," Cosbie was quoted as telling his teammates. "We're not respected around the league on the field because of what's happened the last couple of years, and off the field because of what we do. It's embarrassing."

The 49ers who crossed the picket line had their cars and vans rocked, leaving union representative Keith Fahnhorst disconsolate. "The rest of us are just hanging here," he said, adding that the defections could cause divisiveness the rest of the season.

St. Louis now has 18 players back, prompting union representative Luis Sharpe to say, "It's a shame that the Cardinals are being ridiculed, not only for having so many players come in and play but also for losing that game {28-21 to the Redskins last Sunday}."

The Giants' Taylor, the league's most valuable player last season, entered Giants Stadium along with defensive end Leonard Marshall and reserve quarterback Jeff Hostetler before the management-imposed 1 p.m. deadline, but they apparently changed their minds and left the stadium without practicing.

Several more players who were on injured reserve at the start of the season had crossed picket lines. But those players will not have to sit out the usual four or six weeks because the league notified clubs two weeks ago that the rules regarding injured reserve had been waived at least for the duration of the strike.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse reiterated the owners' position that the games of last week will count regardless of the union's demand to strike the results from the record. Culverhouse, a member of the owners' executive committee, also said the players will receive no back-pay for the games missed.

"It has been brought to my attention today that some of our players and other NFL players have been advised that the NFL will change its policies. That is utterly misleading . . . ," he said. "All games that have been played and will be played are official NFL games and count for all purposes. Players also have been told {by the union} that the league will give them back wages for the games missed. That is also without foundation and contrary to the decisions made by the Management Council."