BEREA, Ohio - Though two of his star players got hurt, Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur defended playing his regulars late in a blowout loss in Denver.
Shurmur said he was just trying to win when prized rookies Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were injured in the second half of the 34-12 loss.
"What do we do, just stop playing?" Shurmur said Monday. "So you just run the ball and get out of there, warm up the buses? Is that what? We're trying to do what we can to move the football. At that time it was a three-score game. Typically that means throw it."
Cleveland running back Trent Richardson (33) is tackled by Denver’s Keith Brooking (57) as Browns guard Shawn Lauvao (66) tries to block.
Facing a defense that knew he had to pass, backup Colt McCoy was sacked four times during his brief relief appearance for Weeden.
"I was just trying to not get knocked out," said McCoy, whose 2011 season ended when he sustained a concussion in Pittsburgh. He hadn't thrown a pass since then in a regular-season game until a wobbly Weeden went out Sunday.
"We were pretty far behind at that point when I got in, so I assumed we would start throwing," McCoy said. "It took a couple series getting used to the pocket - hadn't had any reps, hadn't sat back there in a while - so getting a feel for how those guys were playing, I maybe missed a couple throws early.
"A couple times I just threw the ball in the dirt to let those guys (teammates) rest. We were throwing the ball down the field and those guys were tired."
Shurmur said he was unaware of McCoy's comments. He did know about kick returner Josh Cribbs' profane post-game tweet to fans and did not approve.
"That's not acceptable," Shurmur said. "I don't like that and he shouldn't do that. I think he's remorseful. But he shouldn't be reading tweets after a game. Emotions are raw when you don't win. It is important we use good judgment."
Bitter fans have questioned Shurmur's decisions all year. Their latest outburst came after Weeden was hurt on a third-quarter sack and Richardson went down when McCoy rolled up on the back of his leg after being hit on Cleveland's second-to-last offensive play.
"We don't want to get anybody hurt," Shurmur. "Anybody on the field is exposed to injury."
Shurmur remains hopeful Weeden and Richardson can play in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"I wouldn't rule them out yet," he said. "We're still evaluating those injuries. In the case of Trent, it involved his ankle. The X-rays didn't show a break. He was actually feeling better today. Brandon, it was his right shoulder. At this point it's a sprain.
"I think it's important if guys are physically able to play, they play. That's the competitive nature of this game."
Richardson has set Browns rookie rushing records of 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. Though Weeden has 17 interceptions to 14 touchdown passes, his 3,385 yards are 10th in team history.
The Browns (5-10) probably need a good game from both of their ailing first-round draft picks to beat the Steelers (7-8) and avoid going 5-11 for the third time in four years. A victory would put them two games ahead of Shurmur's first season in Cleveland a year ago - but might not be enough to guarantee him a third chance.
New owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have said only that they are evaluating all aspects of the organization. Sweeping changes are expected after Cleveland's 12th losing season in 14 years.
Having so many injuries hasn't helped. Still, Shurmur expects his young replacements to battle.
"Those are excuses," Shurmur said of utilizing second- and third-stringers. "The next guy up has to play well."
Shurmur believes rookies getting thrown into the fray has helped the young Browns become more competitive. He termed the loss in Denver disappointing but not discouraging, and sees progress.
"I feel like we're much improved," Shurmur said. "I believe we're a better football team, more ready to make the next jump than we were last year."
NOTES: DB Sheldon Brown sustained a concussion when hit by Broncos WR Brandon Stokley, who was penalized for an illegal hit. Shurmur didn't think Stokley was intentionally trying to hurt Brown, but that the penalty was warranted. ... Shurmur thinks OL John Greco (thumb), "will be OK." ... Cribbs called out fans only a few days after thanking them for voting for him for the Pro Bowl.