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Jonathan Stewart injury: Panthers RB tears MCL

Carolina lost on Sunday Night Football, lost a chance at the top of the NFC South and now lost a vital offensive player.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart sustained a torn MCL in a Sunday night loss to the New Orleans Saintsaccording to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The organization initially reported the injury as a "knee contusion," but late news indicated it was more serious. Head coach Ron Rivera confirmed the injury on Monday, but left open the possibility Stewart could return before the end of the regular season. This seems like an overly-optimistic diagnosis, but could remain a possibility depending on the tear's severity.

Stewart played six games in 2013 -- he was placed on the preseason PUP list after undergoing surgery on both ankles prior to the season. Leg injuries have plagued the sixth-year running back since he entered the league in 2008. These started as small foot and toe injuries, graduating to ankle and now knee problems. Stewart missed a total of two games over his first four years in the league, and will likely miss 17 in the last two seasons.

Carolina will lean on starting running back DeAngelo Williams and fullback Mike Tolbert while Stewart is out. There are also additional opportunities for late-round rookie Kenjon Barner, who was selected in the 2013 draft.

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