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Jay Gruden puts Redskins on alert for game against the Buccaneers

With the Patriots looming after the bye, next's Sunday's game with the Bucs is a must-win for Washington (2-4). AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden took the right approach when he assigned a level of importance to next week's game against Tampa Bay. He’s always been known for his honesty. This time, he nailed it; he clearly grasps the situation.

The Redskins have lost two straight. They’re 2-4. And their next game after Tampa Bay is at New England.

That makes Sunday’s game…

“A code red for us,” Gruden said.

Yes, it does. This isn’t about a 2-4 team jumping into playoff contention in a bad division. Let’s hold off on that talk until they reach .500 if they ever do. This is about continuing to build a program. The injuries have played a definite role this season, but in terms of wins and losses they might be one game different if they’d been healthy. That’s too hard to say, but even against the Jets they played a strong first half -- given who they were missing, how many people even expected that?

But it was the third-quarter collapse that spoiled everything. And it was Kirk Cousins’ interception, coupled with another day where too many passes were off-target, that served as a reminder that the most important position remains unsolved. It’s not as if they felt before the game that Cousins was the quarterback of the future. They, too, still needed to see more; they needed to see consistency. They have committed to him in the moment, not the future.

But the present needs more success, injuries or not. Injuries can explain some things, but not all.

So, a code red situation develops.

“That’s been made known,” Gruden said of the importance of Sunday’s game. “It’s a critical game for us, very critical. We’re going to play a very tough, spirited Tampa Bay team coming off a bye again, a healthy Tampa Bay team. It’s critical.”

Health is everything in the NFL. The Redskins entered last offseason with little depth and did a solid job adding some. But when you’ve won seven games the previous two years combined you don’t build enough to withstand what they’ve faced. But the issues on defense did not stem from the injuries at corner. Yes, you always want your best players on the field. The next man up philosophy always applies, but when you have 10 players who would have started for you sitting out? That’s a lot of next men that this team just doesn’t have.

But, as defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said, “That’s not an excuse for us to get a freebie.”

It’s also not to excuse anyone’s play; you can still play sound and smart if others around you are sidelined. You just might not win. Sometimes the Redskins, and Cousins, did just that. Sometimes you see the growth. Other times: a killer game-changing interception. And there are too many throws that are behind receivers, creating missed opportunities. To put this all on Cousins is absurd. The Redskins must stop the run or run the ball better first. If they were doing all that and losing? That's different. They haven't done either thing the past two games. Not that they've lost any faith.

“Please don’t count us out,” Jean Francois said. “We’ve seen teams like the New York Giants go to the playoffs at 9-6 or 9-7 and win the Super Bowl. We can still do things, but now we have to get back to the little things.”

Those pesky “little things” have been a problem for years.

The reality is, a 3-4 record for this team at the bye week would not be unexpected. Heck, after the summer many would have viewed that as a big step in the right direction. There’s a stronger foundation here, but the rest of the house remains a work in progress. A 2-5 record equals disappointment and that’s not what the Redskins want entering their bye week. Tampa Bay is 2-3; the Bucs have to view this as a winnable game. (They won here last year after all.) The Redskins view it as a must-win for many reasons.

In a "Few Good Men," a code red was a directive. Here, it’s not an order but a grasp of the situation. There’s only one truth and it’s one Gruden clearly has a handle on: The Redskins badly need a win.