PITTSBURGH -- Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich, expected to start during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, sprained his left knee in the second quarter Thursday night as Pittsburgh beat the starter-less Carolina Panthers 19-3.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Leftwich would undergo an MRI on Friday, but the quarterback's teammates sounded discouraged. Backup Charlie Batch called it a "serious" injury, and Dennis Dixon -- now the likely starter -- said he couldn't talk to Leftwich because doctors were working on the knee so intensely.
"It's an opportunity, I guess, but it's unfortunate for Byron for what he went through. But this team has to continue to go forward," said Dixon, who has started only one NFL game. "I know once he's going to come back he's going to give us nothing but tremendous support."
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported earlier Thursday that Leftwich went to the hospital to get an MRI during the game.
Leftwich (4 of 6, 39 yards) was hurt on an 18-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders as running back Mewelde Moore and safety Marcus Hudson collided near him with 10:25 remaining in the first half. Leftwich immediately clutched his knee in pain.
Leftwich was examined by team doctors on a stretcher behind the Steelers' bench, then limped into a nearby tunnel that leads to the locker room. As Leftwich was being helped off, Tomlin immediately lifted Dixon, who completed his only pass for a 23-yard touchdown to Sanders.
While Dixon talked to reporters, Roethlisberger -- leaving the Steelers' locker room for the last time in at least a month -- leaned close and offered words of encouragement. Roethlisberger will meet Friday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to learn if his suspension for off-field behavior will be reduced to four games, as expected, or stay at six games.
"It's very tough, kind of emotional," said Roethlisberger, who cannot practice with the Steelers while suspended. "I've just got to go do what I've got to do."
If Leftwich is out an extended period of time, Dixon and Batch would be the only quarterbacks on the Steelers' roster during Roethlisberger's suspension.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.