Thursday Night was Cairo Santos’ favorite type of game. Not because he played an enormous role in the Bears' 16-13 win by hitting all four of his kicks and scoring 10 of the team’s points. He’s far too humble for that. It was his type of game, simply because he’s a special teams junkie.
“When I watch football, I want to watch field goals,” Santos said. “If I was at home watching it like a regular Thursday night game, I would’ve been on the edge of my seat because it was a field goal battle.”
But Santos’ teammates made it clear they wanted to give credit where credit was due.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
“He deserves to brag,” said Lucas Patrick as a small crowd formed around Santos’ locker.
Santos isn’t the type of guy who would brag after a big game, but he’s confident and comfortable. That’s why the Bears put him out there even when things aren’t perfect.
Take Santos’ first field goal for example. He initially drilled a 49-yard attempt, but while the team was celebrating it became clear the kick wouldn’t count. There was a flag on the play. Cody Whitehair moved early and his false start moved the team back five yards. Santos looked at special teams coordinator Richard Hightower, who asked Santos if he was comfortable kicking from 54. The distance would tie a season high for Santos, and would be just one yard shy of his career long. Santos said yes, the team let him rip, and he delivered.
“I thanked (Hightower) afterwards for letting me have that opportunity,” Santos said. “I felt good, so I hit it really well. It was good to connect twice in a row.”
From the outside, it looked like a tough moment that Santos overcame. Kicking a field goal is never easy, and it seemed like a high pressure moment to execute for a second time in a row from a considerably tougher distance. But Santos said the opposite was true.
“I think the second one’s actually easier, because you already got it and saw the ball trail flying straight,” Santos said. “I felt confident I could get the ball there, so I just had to execute. I was probably more calm for the second one than the first one.”
He was sure to give his teammates kudos for allowing him to execute, too.
“Everything was so clean, it was like they kept me in a pocket like a quarterback. I didn’t feel any rush, any pressure. Snaps and holds, the ball was teed up for me. Credit to them too for allowing me to finish the job that we all do.”
After the departure of Robbie Gould in 2016 the Bears lacked a consistent kicker for several years. From Connor Barth to Cody Parkey, Eddy Piñeiro and Mike Nugent, nobody stuck. Santos even had a previous stint with the team in 2017, but an injury cut his season short and the team decided to part ways with him. He got another shot with the team in 2020 and has never looked back.
Now Santos has a 90.3% hit rate on field goals as a Chicago Bear, making him the most accurate field goal kicker in team history. That reliability changes the way the team can treat a game. They can have him kick twice in a row, once from 49 and again from 54, and feel good that he’ll come through with three points. That’s more than they could say about any kicker before he rejoined the team.
“Having a kicker like Cairo is an x-factor,” said Patrick.
“You can throw him out there in any type of situation,” said Braxton Jones. “It’s just nice for us knowing we’ve got a guy like Cairo. He doesn’t flinch. He comes in week in and week out and does his job. I can’t praise him enough. Under that pressure, kicking field goals like that, that’s pretty hard to do. I do respect him a lot.”
Santos has now made 15-16 field goals this season, including a perfect 4-4 on 50+ yard attempts. In addition he has made 19-20 of his extra point attempts.