Ryan Succop watched the ball sail through the uprights and, as is his custom, promptly pointed his index fingers toward the sky.
It was the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 26-10 loss to the Titans on Sunday, and Succop had just drilled his fourth field goal of the day to give the Titans a 16-point lead with a little over five minutes left.
The 47-yard kick marked the perfect ending to an important, redemptive outing for Succop, who was released by the Chiefs last week after five years, despite being the team’s career leader in field-goal percentage.
So on this day — and after everything he’d been through the previous week — there was no way he was going to skip his customary post-kick celebration.
“I always point to the sky,” Succop said. “It’s basically my way of saying, ‘Thank you Lord.’ All along during this process I’ve always leaned on my faith, and especially this week.”
The Chiefs still had time to mount a comeback after Succop’s fourth field goal. But it was a long shot. The offense was struggling, and the defense couldn’t come up with the timely big plays that seemed to epitomize last year’s team.
And worst of all, the Chiefs’ special teams — a bedrock of last year’s 11-5 playoff team — were outperformed by the Titans’, and Succop was a significant reason why.
While the Chiefs’ former kicker, who was released in the final cuts of training camp, drilled field goals from distances of 36, 31, 46 and 47, the man who beat him out — rookie Cairo Santos — had an uneven NFL debut.
“His kickoffs were decent, so that was good,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
But Santos went one for two on field goals, and even the one he made — a 35-yarder in the first half — was shaky. It sailed through only after bouncing off the right upright. He was not as lucky on his second attempt, however, as that one — a 48-yarder in the second quarter — bounced off the left upright and landed harmlessly to the left of the goalposts.
“I tried to play the wind a little bit, and I shouldn’t have. I should have just hit it straight,” Santos said. “I thought the wind was going to be stronger on my 48-yarder, and it just pretty much stayed right where I was aiming.”
Santos, who made 79 percent of his college kicks at Tulane, couldn’t remember the last time he had hit an upright in a game.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen very often,” Santos said.
Neither is a team replacing its all-time leader in field-goal percentage, particularly in his prime.
But after the 27-year-old Succop made 22 of 28 field goals last season — with one of his misses being a potential 41-yard game-winner at San Diego — the Chiefs brought in Santos to compete with him at training camp.
The battle seemed to be even, with Succop and Santos each making both of their field goal attempts in the preseason. But there was one significant difference between the two — money.
Succop was due cap figures of $2.7 million, $3.5 million and $3.2 million the next three years, while Santos would only make a fraction of that.
By cutting Succop, the Chiefs gained roughly $2 million in cap space this year, $2.5 million next year and $3 million in 2016.
Still, Succop says there’s “not one bit of bitterness” from his end.
“I’ve said all along that I’ve had a great five years in Kansas City,” Succop said. “I had an unbelievable experience. The fans here are fantastic. The organization is great.”
In fact, Santos said Succop even offered him some words of encouragement after the game.
“Just keeping my head up,” Santos said. “He said I belong here, and that I’m a good kicker. So it’s good to hear from a guy like him, especially after the game I just had.”
But for all his grace in handling his return to Kansas City, it’s clear Succop has moved on. He talked often about how excited he was to be in Tennessee, and to be a part of where the Titans are headed.
With his four-for-four day — in his old stomping grounds, no less — he couldn’t have hoped for a better start.
“This was a special game today, there’s no question about it,” Succop said. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget this game.”