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Three Steelers starters might be looking toward surgery

Offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton suffered significant knee injuries, and defensive end Brett Keisel injured his groin in the Steelers' playoff loss at Denver, coach Mike Tomlin said Monday.

All three players were evaluated to see whether the injuries will require surgery.

The injuries to Starks, Keisel and Hampton came on the heels of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey's high-ankle sprains, along with injuries to linebacker LaMarr Woodley and a number of other players.

"Injuries are a part of the game," Tomlin said. "You aren't going to be so fortunate that you don't have to deal with them. We dealt with them to the best of our abilities."

The Steelers ended the year with nine players on injured reserve — not including Keisel, Hampton and Starks, who all would have been candidates had the team's season continued.

Tomlin said Pouncey's ankle may require offseason surgery, but said Roethlisberger's high-ankle sprain isn't likely to be fixed surgically.

Ward not finished yet

Refuting a report that he had likely played his last NFL game, wide receiver Hines Ward said he wants to come back for a 15th season.

"I have no plans on retiring right now," Ward wrote on his Facebook page yesterday. "I want to win another Superbowl (sic). I don't know where the media is getting this info from, but rest assured that when I decide to retire, you'll hear it from ME first."

Ward did not have any catches Sunday in Denver. He lost his starting job to Brown in November, but still became the eighth receiver in NFL history with 1,000 receptions or more.

Ward, who did not complain about his reduced role, is signed through 2012.

Tracking Tebow

Tomlin said that if he had to do it again, he wouldn't have defended Denver quarterback Tim Tebow any differently.

"Probably, the responsibilities associated with defending their run gaps kind of dictated at times how you attack them," Tomlin said. "Obviously they made some nice plays on us, and in hindsight you would analyze with a fine-tooth comb some of the things you did, but I think your options are limited in terms of how you attack them because of run-gap responsibilities."

Tebow completed only 10 passes but threw for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He connected on five completions of 30 yards or longer. Coming into the game, the Steelers gave up seven this season.

Coordinator cohesion

Tomlin said he expects offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to return.

"I anticipate it, but of course we all understand what the end of the season is about, and movement is a part of it in today's NFL for players and coaches," Tomlin said. "We are going to try to maintain continuity like we always do."

Run cut short

Count Troy Polamalu among those that thought the Steelers were capable of a long postseason run.

"I've been on a lot of really good teams, and I felt that this team was up there with them," the All-Pro safety said. "We weren't really able to stay healthy, keep cohesiveness out there like we wanted to."

Before losing Keisel and Hampton to knee injuries, the Steelers already were without starting free safety Ryan Clark because of a medical condition. Woodley rotated with Jason Worilds because of a hamstring injury that caused him to miss six of the Steelers' final eight regular-season games.

Question about age - seven of the defensive starters are at least 30 years old - will replace ones about how injuries conspired against the Steelers. But Polamalu said he sees anything but a team in decline.

"We're very talented," he said. "We've got a lot of young guys, we've got a good mix of experience."

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Steelers vs Broncos AFC Wild Card

Steelers vs Broncos   AFC Wild Card

The Broncos defeat the Steelers in overtime of their AFC Wild Card playoff game Sunday January 8, 2012 in Denver.

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