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Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart hopeful he’ll be back this season

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera stuck to his original timetable Wednesday for running back Jonathan Stewart’s return, but both the coach and the player expressed cautious optimism for the coming weeks.

Stewart suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game against New Orleans, and Rivera said Stewart will be out at least two weeks with a possible return of Week 17’s season finale at Atlanta.

Stewart said because he’s “never really had a knee injury,” he’s unsure just how long the rehab process will take.

“Who knows? Some say 2-4 weeks, some say 4-6 weeks,” Stewart said. “You Google it and it says 4-6 weeks. I don’t know.

“(The trainers) are just waiting to see. Every person is different coming back from injury. We just have to see. I don’t know when I’m coming back but I’m hopeful that I will.”

Rivera reiterated Stewart would be reevaluated by the training staff next Wednesday.

“I have talked to him a couple times – yesterday and today – and both times, I love Jonathan’s attitude about it,” Rivera said. “I’m pretty optimistic about it just what I’ve heard from him.”

Stewart left the Saints game in the third quarter after he hauled in a pass that went for 16 yards. Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis delivered a hit directly to Stewart’s knee that sent him out of bounds, on the ground and eventually to the locker room.

Stewart said Wednesday there was no resentment from him toward Lewis for the hit.

“The game of football, it’s a physical game. It’s very instinctive,” Stewart said. “You wish you could go back and run completely to the sideline. The nature of the game and me being a physical runner, he took his precautions by tackling me low and that’s part of the game.”

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