Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly probably will be lost for the two remaining weeks of the regular season, if not longer, with a knee injury suffered in Saturday's 17-13 victory over the New York Giants.
Dr. Richard Weiss, the Bills' physician, said Kelly sprained the medial ligament of his left knee when it was inadvertently struck by Will Wolford as the 295-pound offensive tackle fell backward.
Weiss wouldn't specify how long Kelly would be sidelined, but said it "could be two, four or six" weeks. That would keep him out of next Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, with the AFC Eastern Division championship and home-field advantage through the playoffs at stake.
Weiss said he expected to find "minor tearing" of the ligament when Kelly undergoes a magnetic resonance imaging examination scheduled for today, but said he didn't anticipate that Kelly would require surgery.
"I'm all right," Kelly said as he walked with a pronounced limp through a crowd of reporters in the dressing room on his way to the Bills' chartered buses outside the stadium. He didn't comment further.
The injury occurred with 5:30 remaining in the second quarter, on second-and-10 from the Buffalo 21-yard line.
After completing an 8-yard pass to wide receiver Andre Reed, Kelly stepped back on his follow-through. At the same time, Wolford was hit on his right knee by Giants linebacker Carl Banks and fell into Kelly's left leg, hitting it with his back.
Kelly immediately clutched his knee, then sat up, bobbing his head back and forth in pain. Several of his teammates and Giants players expected the worst when they heard him screaming on the field.
After several minutes, Kelly got to his feet, gingerly applied weight to his left leg and walked slowly, but without assistance, to the sidelines.
Frank Reich replaced Kelly for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, Kelly -- who had entered the game as the top-rated quarterback in the National Football League -- put on a jacket and continued to walk slowly in front of the Bills' bench, constantly testing the knee. At one point, he stopped and did a deep knee-bend before walking again.
As Kelly stepped toward the field to watch the outcome of a punt that ended the Bills' series, his left knee apparently gave out and he began hopping on his right foot. He quickly turned and hopped to the bench, where he sat for a few minutes while being examined by Weiss and the Buffalo trainers.
Kelly then was helped onto the back of a utility cart and driven to the Bills' dressing room. He finished the day with seven pass completions in 11 passing attempts for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The broad medial collateral ligament is one of four major ligaments that stabilize the knee joint. Located along the inner side of the knees and extending between the thigh and shin bones, the medial collateral ligaments prevent the knees from bending side to side.
It is a critical knee ligament and often injured, usually by a strong blow to the outer side of the knee.
Damage to the knee -- from ligament sprains or tears -- causes painful swelling of the joint from blood and fluid. There also may be spasms, involuntary contractions of surrounding muscle. These acute reactions make an initial diagnosis difficult, according to several physicians.
Usually, doctors will wait a day or so until the swelling and spasms subside and then examine the knee using MRI, which is particularly good at identifying damage to joints and soft tissue.
Medical experts said treatment for sprains generally consists of application of ice to reduce swelling, bandaging, sometimes physical therapy and rest for about three weeks.
If the ligament is partially torn, the joint is either immobilized by a cast or brace. If completely torn, the ligament may require surgical repair. The time it takes to recuperate depends on the extent of the damage.
Reich, who guided the Bills to three consecutive victories while Kelly nursed a separated shoulder last year, was 8 of 15 for 97 yards passing.
The Giants also lost their starting quarterback, Phil Simms, who suffered a sprained foot, and finished the day with Jeff Hostetler over center.
For awhile, Bills center Kent Hull thought Kelly might return to action.
"The last thing he told me when he was going off the field was, 'I'm going to get taped and I'll be back,' " Hull said. "And that's the kind of mentality he has. If the guy could have walked on that leg, he'd have been in there. That's the way he is."
Wolford suffered a knee sprain on the play, which kept him down for several minutes and caused him to miss most of the rest of the game. He said he was unaware he had been the cause of Kelly's injury until after he left the field.
"I saw Jim afterward, and he said, 'Yeah, I didn't want to tell you, but I think you were the guy who fell on my leg,' " Wolford said. "I said, 'Well, sorry. I had my own problems at the time.'
"I feel bad the whole thing happened, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had no idea what was going on."