The Ki-Jana Carter era lasted just three carries.
The top pick in the NFL draft tore a knee ligament in his debut with the Cincinnati Bengals and probably will need reconstructive surgery.The running back from Penn State completely tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee as he cut to avoid a tackle in the backfield Thursday night in a 20-13 exhibition loss to Detroit.
A magnetic resonance imaging test Friday found the tear. Carter will miss this season, then have to try to come back from one of the most serious knee injuries for a running back.
"(The doctor) said, `You've torn the ACL.' I was like, `You've got to be kidding me,' " Carter told reporters Friday after returning from the hospital. "That's like the worst thing you ever think of happening to somebody's leg, tearing the ACL. You just see so many stories about it."
The Bengals also lost backup quarterback David Klingler for eight to 10 weeks with a broken jaw. Klingler was hit by a helmet while trying to pass in the fourth quarter, and X-rays Friday discovered the fracture.
The loss of Carter was a particularly bitter blow to the Bengals, who paid Carter a rookie-record $7.1 million signing bonus as part of a seven-year contract that could top out at $19.2 million.
"I'd rank it up there high on a scale of 1-10, maybe close to the 10 number," general manager Mike Brown said. "But you've got to keep going. You can't make something like this make you cry in your beer."
Brown was hoping Carter would resurrect Cincinnati's horrid running game and win back fans and voters. The Bengals are lobbying for a tax increase to build a new stadium.
In the end, Brown's decision to protect Carter and his quarterbacks with a weak offensive line cost him dearly. The line was inadequate last year, and was weakened when starting guard Dave Cadigan retired.
Instead of drafting to build the line, Brown went for a running back. Carter was hit in the backfield on two of his three carries Thursday, including the play that ended his season.
"We put our money down and we made the bet," Brown said. "Sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. At least for this year, this is one we won't win. It doesn't mean it won't come around in the future."
Carter is trying to avoid the fate of Ickey Woods, a running back who led the Bengals to the Super Bowl as a rookie in 1988, but was never a premier runner after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
"Even though they say that it might hamper you a little bit, I don't think it's going to do that to me," Carter said.
Carter will get a second opinion in the next few days from Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala. Trainer Paul Sparling said surgery is likely.