One game showed what Lorenzo Carter has been during his Giants career. The next showed what the Giants thought he could be.
You probably didn’t even notice Carter in the video of the best throw of the NFL season, when he flushed the Chargers’ Justin Herbert from the pocket, never stopped hustling and dove on the quarterback’s legs just a half-step after the 59-yard touchdown pass was uncorked.
“I played it and felt it, so I only watched it once,” Carter told The Post about the viral highlight. “The difference between knocking the ball out of his hand and a touchdown is crazy, but I’ve got to let that one live and die. Those split-second, split-inch plays are all over the field.”
The play was a microcosm of the last four years, when Carter has too often been in the picture with nothing to show for it.
But just when it seemed like time to break things off and to stop expecting different results, Carter complicated a looming free-agent decision with the the best game of his career against the Cowboys: Two tackles for loss against the run, a pass defended and two fourth-quarter sacks, including one resulting in a lost fumble by Dak Prescott.
“Prepared people get lucky,” Carter said before the breakthrough game. “We get coached hard. We have to keep doing what we do and it will fall our way eventually.”
A bit prophetic.
Like others in the 2018 draft class, Carter arrived at a time of optimism. Since then, the Giants are entering Sunday’s game against the Eagles 19-43.
“It’s tough coming in and not winning instantly, but that’s luck of the draw,” the 2018 third-round pick said. “Some guys win a Super Bowl the first year and the team wasn’t even that sound. That’s what we’re trying not to do here. We’re trying not to get away with things and push it under the rug.”
Carter had two quarterback hits and 15 pressures on his first 213 pass-rushing snaps of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. But the Giants stayed with him over teammates signed later on.
The 26-year-old linebacker delivered three hits and seven pressures on 23 rushes against the Cowboys — a tape that his agent surely will market if the Giants go for an overdue overhaul of their edge rushers in 2022 and Carter must search elsewhere.
“Coach [Joe] Judge definitely has brought a system that players coming from Georgia or Alabama are used to,” Carter, a Georgia product, said when asked if he wants to return next season. “I welcome the challenge, and I look forward to the things New York has. There’s going to be great things in the future.”
General manager Dave Gettleman’s failure to build a pass rush in the true Giants’ mold is his second-biggest mistake (behind the offensive line). He put faith in Carter, believing he was “really coming on” before a ruptured Achilles halted Carter’s 2020 season after five games. But the return has been slow.
“There’s been a lot of plays he’s been right on the edge of making, and a couple times where if he guys execute on the other side of the rush then it bottles it up and he gets there,” linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer said. “I’m sure it’s one on everyone’s mind: Where does this thing go from here? That probably puts a little added stress on him … but I think he’s still a quality player in this league.”
It’s difficult not to buy in just looking at Carter’s tantalizing length and athleticism, but his first sack against the Cowboys was his first since Sept. 20, 2020. The two sacks matched his total from his 16 previous games combined. Carter missed 11 games last season plus two this season with a sprained ankle.
“When the business aspect kicks in, it’s great to have your best year in your contract year,” Carter said. “I’m just trying to keep getting better. I missed a few games in the middle that I would love to have back, but it’s been-there done-that. You can’t think about everything that has gone down in the past. Control the future, try to bring the young guys up and win a few games to finish this thing off.”