By Steve Silverman
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Just two years ago, Eli Manning looked like he was preparing for a turn in “The Living Dead” as he took two steps backward every time he took a step forward.

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Manning was an interception machine during the 2013 season as he threw a league-high 27 picks. At the time, brother Peyton was ripping up the NFL with 55 TD passes and just 10 interceptions with the Denver Broncos.

Eli’s performance was disastrous, and there was little reason to think that the then-32-year-old quarterback would get it going back in the right direction.

However, he has done just that, exceeding all expectations as he is completing 66 percent of his passes this season, averaging 258 passing yards per game and he has put together a remarkable 17-4 TD-interception ratio.

All of that means you could expect to see the Giants in first place in the NFC East.

And that’s just where they are, but it is not good news. They are in first place with a 4-4 record, and the losses have been tragic-comic.

The last of those losses was an inexplicable 52-49 defeat at New Orleans last Sunday, a game in which the defense didn’t show up.

The Giants’ defense is simply awful, and you don’t have to be a football expert to see the issues. The Giants rank 32nd in yards allowed, including a laughable 31st in passing yards yielded.

They don’t cover and they don’t pressure opposing quarterbacks. That’s a bad thing for a professional football team. That would be a bad thing for a high school football team.

Maybe things will get a bit better when Fourth of July celebrant Jason Pierre-Paul gets back in the lineup, but that does not seem to be the move that will turn the Giants into an explosive (ugh!) defense.

The Giants may get a little bit of a boost from Prince Amukamara’s return to the secondary once he is recovers from his torn pectoral, but he is not a miracle worker. He’s a slightly better than average NFL cover man, and that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt.

A few weeks ago, the idea of going to Tampa to play Jameis Winston and the Bucs might have looked like an in-season vacation. But after a painful start, Winston is starting to learn his NFL lessons. He is showing he can read defenses, and he has gone three consecutive games without throwing an interception.

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The Bucs have enough weapons to put at least three touchdowns on the board.

If it stops there, the Giants should be able to win on Sunday, but bad defense is not the only thing the Giants have to worry about. Their end-of-game execution cost them in three of their four losses, and nearly cost them in victories over Washington, Buffalo and San Francisco.

The Giants handled the fourth quarter well against Dallas in Week 7 as they scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 100-yard kickoff run by Dwayne Harris midway through the period, stopped the Cowboys on their next possession, executed three running plays, and then fell on the ball when Dallas fumbled the ensuing punt.

The Giants did not lose their Week 6 game in Philadelphia because of late mistakes, either. They lost that game because they got whipped.

The first two losses of the season to Dallas and Atlanta where directly attributable to miserable clock management by Manning and Tom Coughlin, and the Giants gave it up last week against New Orleans when punter Brad Wing took a horrid facemask penalty that allowed the Saints to attempt a 50-yard field goal rather than throw a Hail Mary into the endzone.

Under normal circumstances, New Orleans kicker Kai Forbath maybe wouldn’t have made that game-winning kick because his knees would have been knocking. But since he was playing against the Giants, the pressure was far less.

When the Giants give away gifts, opponents are happy to unwrap them and start playing as if it’s their birthday.

They simply don’t know how to manage games. It’s as if they get close to the finish line and the gag reflex starts to kick in. That’s nearly unfathomable because Coughlin has impeccable coaching credentials and Manning understands what it takes to win, but yet the Giants have taken on the role of chokers this season.

They have to change that aspect right away. They have a challenging game Sunday at Tampa Bay, and then they get the Patriots next week.

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount against Steve Spagnuolo’s Swiss Cheese defense. It’s a scary thought.

The Giants must take care of business this week, or the second half of the season will almost certainly turn into a disaster.

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Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy