Quarterback Byron Leftwich has been the centerpiece of the Jacksonville Jaguars' sudden return to contender status after four straight losing seasons. But now the Jaguars must fret about the condition of their franchise quarterback's left knee, and they could be without Leftwich when they return from a bye week to host the Detroit Lions on Nov. 14.

Leftwich was in Birmingham yesterday to be examined by orthopedist James Andrews after he hurt the knee during Sunday's 20-6 loss at Houston. Andrews told Leftwich that he has a sprained lateral collateral ligament that could require as long as four to six weeks to heal. It does not appear that surgery is necessary and Leftwich told Jaguars officials that he feels he can be ready to face the Lions.

But the Jaguars intend to be careful with their second-year quarterback, a D.C. native and H.D. Woodson High alum who was the seventh overall draft choice last year from Marshall. Backup David Garrard would replace Leftwich if there are doubts about his condition next week.

Leftwich was hurt late in the first half and missed two plays but returned to finish the game. He was examined by the Jaguars' medical staff on Monday and was sent to Andrews by agent Tom Condon, said a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team was being careful about the information it was releasing. The injury is similar to one that Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre suffered on a hit by linebacker LaVar Arrington during a win over the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field in 2002, and Favre kept his record consecutive-games streak intact by starting the next game after a bye.

During his final two seasons at Marshall, Leftwich suffered what he has called a stress fracture and a hairline fracture in different spots of his lower left leg. But those injuries were scrutinized closely before he was drafted and he still was a high first-round pick. The Jaguars traded veteran Mark Brunell to the Redskins in the offseason to solidify Leftwich's hold on the starting job, and he has made clutch plays, leading Jacksonville (5-3) to first place in the AFC South.

R. Williams's Camp Focusing on Next Year

The representatives for retired Miami Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams have all but abandoned their attempt to have Williams reinstated by the NFL this season, sources familiar with the deliberations said.

Williams's camp is focusing on having him reinstated in the early stages of next offseason, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter remains under discussion between the league and Williams's representatives. Even if he is reinstated then, Williams likely would be subject to a four-game suspension at the outset of next season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Williams's representatives apparently have realized that the league doesn't intend to budge from its position that Williams, who abruptly left the Dolphins just before training camp, is ineligible to play this season under provisions of the substance-abuse policy.

Attorney David Cornwell, who represents Williams, met recently in the Los Angeles area with two lawyers for the league. Cornwell entered and emerged from the meeting expressing hope that Williams would be cleared to play as soon as possible, perhaps this season. Cornwell said immediately after the meeting that he would deliver a proposal to the league on Williams's behalf, and Cornwell's letter was received by the league Monday.

But Williams reportedly has tested positive for marijuana use three times and would have faced an NFL-imposed four-game suspension at the outset of this season if he had played. Under the terms of the substance-abuse policy, if a player already in the drug program (by virtue of at least one positive test) retires and then attempts to return in less than a year, he will be charged with an additional violation of the program -- which, in Williams's case, would be a fourth violation that would bring a one-year suspension.

So, under the rules, if Williams returns now, he would be subject to a four-game suspension and then a one-year suspension and would not be eligible to play until late next season. If he waits until July to return, he would not be subject to the one-year suspension but still would have to serve the four-game suspension and would be eligible to play in his team's fifth game of next season.

Williams's representatives are hoping for only a slight concession by the league, sources said, by having him cleared in the early portion of the offseason to play next season, clarifying his playing status for next season in the likelihood that he will be headed to another team. The Dolphins probably would trade Williams in the offseason, and under this scenario might be better able to locate other teams willing to deal for him.

Williams would be subject to drug testing by the league in the coming months under this scenario, the sources said, and would be cleared only if he passes the tests for a specified duration. He also would agree to remain in the league's drug program for the rest of his career, the sources said.

Patriots' Law Suffers Broken Foot

Ty Law's agent, Carl Poston, told the Boston Globe that the cornerback will be sidelined for four to six weeks because of a broken bone in his left foot suffered during the New England Patriots' loss at Pittsburgh last Sunday.

The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years even while using 42 players as starters on offense and defense and losing 103 man-games to injuries among their starters last season. But they could have difficulty continuing to win without Law, one of the sport's top pass defenders. The Patriots were without their other starting cornerback, Tyrone Poole, against the Steelers because of a knee injury and could be left with Asante Samuel and undrafted rookie Randall Gay as their starters. Safety Eugene Wilson could be moved to cornerback but that would force rookie Dexter Reid into the lineup. . . .

Dolphins linebacker Junior Seau could be facing season-ending surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. . . .

Many teams with available salary cap space are working on contract extensions with key players this week. In extensions completed by Monday, any salary increase that the player receives this season counts against the team's cap this season. In any extension completed after Monday, an increase will count as a signing bonus and will be prorated over the duration of the player's contract for cap accounting purposes. Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri are among the players who could sign new contracts.

Byron Leftwich, who has led Jacksonville to first place in the AFC South, has a sprained ligament in his left knee and could miss the Jaguars' game Nov. 14 against Detroit.