ATLANTA — At the 2:18 mark in the first quarter of Monday night’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants, Norcross grad Lorenzo Carter made friends and family proud and distressed at the same time.

Carter burst from the Giants’ four-man front and blanketed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for New York’s third sack of the game. He shouted with exhilaration afterward.

“It’s a rush of energy,” Carter said. “You work so hard just to get a chance to get back there. To get them on the ground, it’s a rush.”

Carter’s ties to metro Atlanta and the University of Georgia football team, for whom he played the last time he was in Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship game, earn him a respectful nod from those who witnessed his invaluable contributions to UGA’s run last season. That’s saying something since Falcons fans would normally groan at a sack as the club clings to every win, desperate to keep pace in the NFC South.

He said after the game he expected a few scolding text messages along with some support when it came to sacking Atlanta’s newly-paid franchise quarterback.

Carter keeps his hometown close still. He returned after rookie training camp this summer to help his former head coach Keith Maloof and Peachtree Ridge grad Bradley Roby host a youth football skills clinic. He spent some time with his family and made sure to take advantage of the restaurants he needed to binge before he returned to New York (Waffle House was on the list, among others).

Carter and the Giants lost 23-20 on Monday, New York’s fourth consecutive loss this season. The Giants defense nearly did what it had to in order to give New York a chance to tie the game on its final drive. Atlanta kicker Georgio Tavecchio, filling in for an injured Matt Bryant, slotted a 56-yard field goal through the uprights to give Atlanta the two-possession lead it needed to clinch the game. A late score from New York only covered the spread, instead of tying the game. 

Carter is admittedly critical of himself. He wasn’t exactly tipping his cap to Tavecchio after the game. It’s not to say he doesn’t respect the late-game heroics, but he felt like the Giants defense needed a few more stops, sacks, pass breakups and otherwise leverage-flipping plays to beat a struggling Atlanta team.

“We try to play a complementary game,” Carter said. “The defense complements the offense and vice-versa. We just didn’t do enough at the end of the day. That what this game comes down to, making more plays than the other team.”

Carter is on the field often for the Giants, typically part of New York’s pass-rush package. When New York wants to bring pressure, Carter’s the staff's go-to.

Bringing pressure was one of Carter’s specialties at UGA. He racked up 14 sacks in his career, including 4.5 in his senior campaign. He was a five-star recruit and two-time state champion at Norcross and an immediate impact during his freshman season at Georgia. He appeared in 10 games, tallied 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.

He’s having a similar impact with the Giants this year. Carter’s sack on Monday was the second of his NFL career of seven games.

“(Georgia coach Kirby Smart) actually prepared me really well,” Carter said. “We played an NFL defense at Georgia. You can tell once you get into the league that we actually had pretty good coaches.”

He’s trying to soak up wisdom from NFL veterans Connor Barwin, Olivier Vernon and Alec Ogletree — a Newnan High School alum and Georgia football standout. Carter is also teammates with another former Gwinnett County standout, Grayson’s Wayne Gallman, who won a national title at Clemson in his junior season before entering the draft.

Carter was on the field for roughly half of New York’s defensive and special teams plays.

He also plays on the Giants’ punt return team. He and his teammates sealed some crucial blocks for a 21-yard punt return by fellow rookie Quadree Henderson.

“It’s good getting a chance to run down and make an impact,” he said. “For me, I’m not going to get all the snaps on defense. Anywhere I can help out and get more snaps is good.”

When Carter was taken No. 66 overall in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, he didn’t expect to ride the bench. Presently, he’s not too worried about his role. It’s icing on the cake, considering his career is just starting.

“I knew I was going to have to come in and help as much as I can, whether it’s playing every snap or getting in the on third downs and special teams,” Carter said. “I’m cool with it all.”

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories about the county in which he grew up.