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Bills quarterback Jim Kelly's knee injury is no worse than first thought and it is expected he will be able to return in about four weeks, the team announced this morning.

The announcement was made at a Rich Stadium press conference called to reveal results of a magnetic resonance imaging exam taken Monday afternoon by Kelly. The test showed a partial tear in the medial collateral ligament of his left knee, as well as a tear in the cartilage behind the knee.

No surgery will be needed.

Kelly, the National Football League's top-rated quarterback and a strong candidate for Most Valuable Player on offense, was having his finest season going into last Saturday's game in New Jersey against the Giants. But that came to a halt when he was injured in the second quarter when tackle Will Wolford was knocked into him.

"Dr. (Richard) Weiss estimates that Jim will practice in three weeks and play in four," Bills General Manager Bill Polian said.

"It is absolutely the best news we could have had under the circumstances."

If the Bills clinch the AFC East championship and receive a bye in the first round of the playoffs, Kelly could be available to play in a divisional round game the weekend of Jan. 12-13. If, however, they do not win the divsiion, the Bills would have to play the weekend of Jan. 5-6, and Kelly is unlikely to be back for that game.

Kelly was not at the press conference this morning, but Monday, in his first talk with reporters since the injury, he spoke of the bad luck that included a separated shoulder last season that sidelined him for three weeks at a time when he was, also, the league's top-rated quarterback.

"I go to church every Sunday, I pray," Kelly said during a news conference Monday at Rich Stadium. "God, I don't know . . ."

The disappointment was evident in Kelly's eyes, especially when he talked of a worst-case scenario.

"If it's a bad knee, (you can) probably kiss the season goodbye," he said, with his knee heavily taped and a pronounced limp in his walk.

Missing Sunday's showdown against the Miami Dolphins is going to be difficult enough.

More than anyone, Kelly wanted to avenge the Bills' 30-7 loss to Miami in Week Two, while capturing the AFC Eastern Division championship and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"It's a game that, not only the 47 players on this team, but the whole community is looking forward to," he said. "This is what everybody dreams about. This is what everybody lives for.

"And I'm just going to be watching from the sidelines."

There was a time Saturday when Kelly thought he'd be on the sidelines for only a short time before returning to the field.

"The first minute, two minutes of the injury are the worst," he recalled. "But after a while, it started quieting down. It felt pretty good. I got up, I was able to walk on it.

"I got to the sidelines and I started trying to bend on it, and I said, 'God, this is great. I mean, if I get hit the way I just did and I'm able to walk the way I am, this is pretty good.' "

But all that changed when Kelly jumped while trying to get a better view of a Bills punt. He grabbed his left knee, turned and hopped on his right foot to the bench.

"All of a sudden, it just buckled on me," he said. "My joint came out of place, and at that point, I knew something was the matter with my knee."

Still, Kelly felt it could have been worse had he not been wearing precautionary braces on both knees.

"If it wasn't for the knee brace, I probably wouldn't be standing here talking to you right now," he said. "It definitely cut off some of the pressure that was put on it by Will."

Kelly also wore knee braces while playing for the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League. And he credited that for minimizing an injury to his right knee that occurred when a Gambler offensive lineman accidentally fell on his leg the way Wolford did.

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