One after another they limped, hobbled, or were carted off the field. Some National Football League quarterbacks, such as Chicago's Jim Harbaugh, are out for the season, and the New York Giants do not expect Phil Simms to play until at least the second round of the playoffs.

The teams most hurt by the loss of their quarterbacks were prime contenders for the Super Bowl -- the NFC Central champion Chicago Bears (10-4), the NFC East-champion New York Giants (11-3) and the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills (12-2) -- but are now in serious trouble because of those injuries.

Six quarterbacks -- most considered among the league's best -- were hurt this weekend. Their injuries ranged from ligament damage in the left knee of Buffalo's Jim Kelly (out at least three weeks) to a severe foot sprain for Simms to the sprained right thumb of Cleveland's Bernie Kosar, which has a bone chip.

Also injured this weekend were Kansas City's Steve DeBerg (dislocated left pinky) and Green Bay's Anthony Dilweg (left arch sprain). Kosar is doubtful for this week; Dilweg is questionable. DeBerg, who had a small pin inserted into the tip of his finger and stayed in the hospital Sunday night to guard against infection, is expected to play.

"Don't count me out," DeBerg said. "I'll be there."

Three teams hurt most by the loss of their quarterbacks were expected to have the best chance of dethroning two-time Super Bowl champion San Francisco. The injuries also give a second tier of teams such as the surging Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins better reason to think Super Bowl.

Yesterday a sophisticated X-ray called a tomogram taken on the right foot of Simms showed he had a severe strain in his mid-foot area but no fractures. That's the good news for the Giants.

The bad news for them is that Simms will be in a cast for at least three weeks and Giants officials don't expect him to be available at least until the second week of the playoffs. If the Giants have to play a wild-card team in the first round, he is not expected to be available. Backup Jeff Hostetler, who led the Giants to a comeback win over Phoenix earlier this season, will step in.

"We don't lose anything in terms of athleticism with Jeff," said Giants General Manager George Young. "But experience, that's where the loss of Phil hurts. But we'll have to wait and see."

Young described Simms's mood as "funky. He gets frustrated when he can't play. He gets very stoic with those kind of things."

Harbaugh is lost for the season because of a third-degree separation in his right shoulder. He was hurt in the third quarter of the Bears' 38-21 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday night and will be replaced by Mike Tomczak. Rookie third-round draft choice Peter Tom Willis from Florida State also is available. Willis replaced Tomczak against the Lions after Tomczak was intercepted.

Kelly had a magnetic resonance image taken of his left knee yesterday and the results won't be revealed until this afternoon. He was hurt when Giants linebacker Carl Banks pushed Bills lineman Will Wolford onto the knee.

Kelly, the league's top-rated passer who injured his right knee on an almost identical play six years ago when he was with the USFL's Houston Gamblers, said yesterday at best he'll return in three weeks.

The timing couldn't have been worse for Buffalo, which plays division rival Miami (in second place at 11-3) this week.

Former University of Maryland quarterback Frank Reich, who was 3-0 last year when Kelly was injured, will start against Miami, 30-7 winners over the Bills in Week 2.

"I want to be a part of this," Kelly said yesterday in Buffalo, "but I can't. That bothers me. . . . It hurts {to watch} but I have all the confidence in the world in Frank Reich."

Few weekends in the history of the NFL compare to the damage done Saturday and Sunday, but Nov. 13, 1977, rates. That's when eight quarterbacks were felled, including Fran Tarkenton, Lynn Dickey and Bill Munson, all with broken legs. In 1986 seven starting quarterbacks went down in Week 7 and by the middle of the season 13 starters had missed one or more games.

INJURY: Sprained left knee


INJURY: Severe right foot sprain


INJURY: Separated right shoulder

OUT: Remainder of season STEVE DeBERG, KANSAS CITY

INJURY: Dislocated left pinky

OUT: Will play this week ANTHONY DILWEG, GREEN BAY

INJURY: Left arch


INJURY: Right (throwing) hand, sprain, bone chip

OUT: This week only