KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Just about the worst thing that could happen to Chiefs rookie Cairo Santos came to fruition during his NFL debut, when he missed one of his two field-goal attempts while the man he replaced in Kansas City kept banging balls through the uprights.
Ryan Succop was perfect on his four attempts that day, helping Tennessee to a 26-10 rout.
Afterward, though, the veteran kicker who had spent his entire career with the Chiefs met the young upstart on the field. Succop told Santos that he struggled so much one season that he thought he was going to be cut, and then set a Chiefs record with 22 consecutive makes.
It was exactly what Santos needed to hear.
The Brazilian youngster with the booming leg missed another kick the following week at Denver, but has made six straight over the last three games. The coup de grace: A winning, 48-yarder with 21 seconds left in a 23-20 victory at San Diego last Sunday.
“With kickers, sometimes it’s a roller coaster,” Santos said. “You can’t run from it. It’s about being mentally strong. If you make one, it’s onto the next kick. Just like if you miss one. Nothing I did in San Diego is going to help us beat the St. Louis Rams.”
That may be true to some extent, but the kick that sent the Chiefs (3-3) past the Chargers last Sunday certainly filled Santos with confidence. And it also filled the rest of the Chiefs with confidence, too — if the offense can get the ball to an opponent’s 35, they know now that they will come away with at least three points just about every time.
“Listen, when you study some of these great kickers that first year, a lot of them have struggled,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “There have been some highs and lows, let’s put it that way, in their careers in that first year. So I’ve got it, I understand.”
Three kickers in the Hall of Fame provide proof of that.
George Blanda, who also played quarterback during his 27-year career, made just seven of his first 15 field goals as a 22-year-old rookie in 1949. Of course, the ball and the uprights and the field surface and just about everything else was different then, and most would argue it was far harder to kick. But he still wound up being one of the best of his time.
Three times Blanda led the league in field-goal percentage.
Lou Groza was also 22 during his rookie season in 1946. He made just 13 of 29 field goals that season, but would go on to lead the league in percentage five times. By the time he was kicking for Cleveland in 1963, he was hitting 23 of 26 attempts — absurd for the era.
Then there’s Jan Stenerud, who happened to play the majority of his career for the Chiefs. He made just 21 of 36 attempts as 25-year-old rookie, then led the league with 30 makes the next year. He was 20 of 23 in 1984, as a 42-year old kicking for Minnesota.
Those are all inspiring tales, but Santos has leaned on more recent kickers for advice.
Longtime Bears kicker Robbie Gould called him out of nowhere a while back, and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski talked to Santos for a while after their game last month.
“I’ve talked to a lot of vets out there that have helped me establish a better routine,” Santos said. “We do have a play clock, 40 seconds. So take your time, feel the wind. That’s what I’ve been doing and so far it’s been working.”
The kicks still haven’t always been pretty. The winner against San Diego shimmied and shook and danced through the air before skirting just inside the upright.
But the results have been simply gorgeous.
“I told Cairo, his cream is going to rise to the top,” said his holder, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt. “He’s got a great leg, a great head on his shoulders. He’s had an opportunity to go on a roll here, so that’s huge. We’re really confident in him.”