Scrambling from pressure, McCoy was laid out by a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers linebacker James Harrison late in the fourth quarter. McCoy left the game for just two plays but returned after being examined and cleared by the Browns' medical staff, which Shurmur said followed the NFL's exacting guidelines on concussions.
McCoy didn't begin showing symptoms of a concussion until after the game, Shurmur said.
"If he had shown symptoms of the concussion I wouldn't have put him back in the game," Shurmur said. "That was a tough, physical game. Everybody got knocked around. If he had the symptoms he wouldn't have gone back in — absolutely not."
After McCoy was blasted by Harrison, who was fined $50,000 last season for a devastating hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, the QB told trainers he injured his left hand. McCoy was briefly checked on the field before he was taken to Cleveland's bench, where Shurmur said medical personnel performed mandatory "return-to-play" tests adopted by the league in 2009.
Shurmur is confident the team's training and medical staff made McCoy answer questions and evaluated him thoroughly before clearing him.
McCoy then approached his coach, who had put in backup Seneca Wallace as the Browns were driving to a possible go-ahead touchdown.
"He said, 'Hey, I'm ready to go,'" Shurmur said. "And I was ready to go."
On his third play after returning, McCoy, whose head was snapped back on the crushing blow from Harrison, threw a costly interception in the end zone.
McCoy was only on the sideline for a few minutes — 80 seconds in game time, 3:50 of real time — and Shurmur said he did not display any of the symptoms — loss of consciousness, confusion, amnesia, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting — associated with concussions.
Shurmur said he didn't hesitate in putting McCoy back in knowing his quarterback had been looked at, and because the Browns have had experience in dealing with multiple concussions over the past two years. Both tight end Benjamin Watson and fullback Owen Marecic were kept out of Thursday night's game after they were diagnosed with concussions.
Shurmur said evaluating head injuries can be tricky, but that he trusts his medical staff.
"You follow the protocol," he said. "When something like that happens, there's interaction with the player. If he says, 'Hey, I'm fine' and you go through it and if he's fine then you move on."
League spokesman Greg Aiello was asked in an email if the Browns followed proper protocol.
"We will review it with the team," he responded.
According to the league's "sideline assessment concussion tool," players are supposed to be asked a series of five questions — What month is it? What is the date today? What is the day of the week? What year is it? What time is it right now? — as the initial phase of their evaluation. There are other tests, including the repetition of words and numbers and balance that need to be performed.
Shurmur was asked if it was possible that McCoy "lied" his way back onto the field.
"I don't know that," he said. "I know he's a competitor and wants to play. I feel very confident that if he wasn't able to play, we would've stopped him."
McCoy's father wish they had.
Brad McCoy criticized the Browns for not doing more to protect his son, who also badly bruised his left hand.
"He never should've gone back in the game," the elder McCoy told the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. "He was basically out (cold) after the hit. You could tell by the rigidity of his body as he was laying there. There were a lot of easy symptoms that should've told them he had a concussion. He was nauseated and he didn't know who he was. From what I could see, they didn't test him for a concussion on the sidelines. They looked at his (left) hand."
Shurmur said McCoy did not complain of being nauseous and passed all the mandatory tests. As a father, he was sympathetic to McCoy's concern for his boy.
"I can understand a dad's feeling in this matter. I'm the father of a son who plays quarterback," said Shurmur. "I get it and I wouldn't want my son in harm's way if he was showing those symptoms. I understand that. As far as us evaluating him, we didn't see that. The McCoys are terrific people who love their son and want the best for him. I get that."
Brad McCoy didn't think the Browns had time to do a neurological exam on his son.
"Josh Cribbs suffered a groin injury earlier in the game and he was out for the rest of the game," he said. "Colt takes a severe hit like that and he's back in the game a play later? If he took another blow to the head, we could've been talking about his career here."
Harrison has a history of helmet-to-helmet blows, at least three against the Browns. He was penalized for roughing the passer on Thursday night's hit against McCoy.
Shurmur would not say if he felt Harrison should have been ejected — or should be suspended.
Shurmur added he didn't think his players needed to retaliate.
"No, I think there was plenty of response from our team," he said. "To go out and compound and do something silly, we don't want that. The fact that it happened and it was penalized, that's what happens during a game. The rest of the stuff is league business and I have strong feelings about that that I'm not going to share."