Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart was diagnosed with a medial collateral ligament tear in his right knee Monday, an injury that could sideline him for the remainder of the regular season.
Stewart exited Sunday's 31-13 loss at NFC South-rival New Orleans in the third quarter after taking a shot to the knee from Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis at the end of a catch. The Panthers have already ruled the six-year veteran out for this weekend's game against the New York Jets and he'll almost certainly miss the following week as well, though the team is hopeful he'll be available for its Week 17 matchup at Atlanta on Dec. 29.
"We'll get a better feel for it in the next 10 days," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "It wasn't the ACL -- that much I know, which is huge. Very happy for Jonathan that there is a bit of good news."
The Panthers are deep at the running back position, with starter DeAngelo Williams having produced a pair of 1,000-yard seasons over his career and fullback Mike Tolbert capable of contributing as well. Those two received the majority of the backfield work with Stewart sidelined for the season's first seven games while recovering from surgeries on each of his ankles.
Since being activated from the physically unable to perform list in early November, Stewart had rushed for 180 yards on 48 carries while adding seven receptions totaling 44 yards.
Carolina also could opt to hold out Stewart until the playoffs if it's able to reach the postseason. The Panthers are currently tied with San Francisco for the two wild card spots in the NFC, with Arizona one game back with three to play.