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Achilles injury could sideline Polamalu for rest of regular season

Strong safety Troy Polamalu could miss the remainder of the regular season after aggravating his strained right Achilles tendon, sources told the Tribune-Review on Friday.

Polamalu, however, could return for the playoffs.

According to a Steelers source, the length of Polamalu's absence depends on the team's playoff positioning. The Steelers (10-3) hold a one-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North.

The Steelers face the New York Jets (9-4) on Sunday, then close the regular season against Carolina (1-12) and Cleveland (5-8). They have only three days off before facing Carolina, possibly not enough time for Polamalu's injury to sufficiently heal.

The Cleveland game Jan. 2 might be meaningless for playoff positioning, and the Steelers could opt to sit not only Polamalu but also other starters.

Polamalu is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Jets.

Polamalu was diagnosed with the Achilles injury after the Steelers' 39-26 loss to New England on Nov. 14 but has not missed a game.

He returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati last week but aggravated the injury when Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer fell on the back of his leg at the end of the play. Polamalu limped off the field but finished the game.

As he has done since injuring his Achilles, Polamalu missed the first two days of practice this week. But he also sat out yesterday's practice, a change from previous weeks.

Steelers players rarely play if they don't practice Fridays. Polamalu didn't speak with reporters yesterday.

Free safety Ryan Clark practiced at strong safety this week. Ryan Mundy filled Clark's position yesterday.

Polamalu, a leading candidate for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year honors, has a team-high six interceptions in 13 games this season. He made big plays in each of the Steelers' past three wins that resulted in a touchdown against Cincinnati, set up a touchdown against Baltimore and stopped Buffalo's offense in the red zone.

It is up to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to find the right combination of players to replace that productivity.

Last week Clark and Polamalu switched positions after Polamalu aggravated his injury.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons' role also could increase with Polamalu's absence.

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