As Chiefs rookie kicker Cairo Santos stood over a potential, 48-yard game winning field goal, he knew exactly what happened here a year ago.
Ryan Succop had missed a 41-yarder at the end of regulation in the 2013 regular-season finale against San Diego, a game the Chargers would win in overtime and a miss that went a long way toward Succop eventually losing his job to Santos.
Santos, whose rookie season started shaky with misses in each of the Chiefs’ first two games, stared at the end zone, waited through a San Diego time out and drilled the ball into a slight breeze squarely between the goal posts before he was mobbed by his teammates.
“They told me that’s why I’m here,” Santos said of his teammates’ reactions. “To hear that from them is awesome.”
There was little doubt in Santos’ mind he’d make it.
“I was pretty confident,” said Santos, who had made a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter. “I’ve had a couple of kicks in a row now and that helps the confidence. I was just calm and have been hitting the ball well.”
Santos, the Lou Groza Award winner as a junior at Tulane in 2012, was signed as an undrafted free agent during the offseason to provide competition for Succop, as well as salary cap relief if he could win the job.
Santos, who is 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, won the job in a heated battle in training camp, and he was aware of Succop’s miss at San Diego last year.
“I remember watching that game last year,” said Santos, the first native of Brazil to play in the NFL. “I had no idea I’d have the chance to be a Chief, but I remember watching that game. I was glad I could help this time.”
Even though Santos made just two of his first four field-goal attempts, the Chiefs stuck with him, and Chicago kicker Robbie Gould, who performed for Kansas City special teams coach Dave Toub, gave him an unexpected vote of confidence.
“He was kind enough to give me a call out of nowhere and shared that he started his rookie season three-for-six, ended up having an OK year,” Santos said, “and look at the career he’s had. Kickers go through that. It’s a normal thing. Guys that stay a long time put that stuff behind them pretty quick.”
Santos made two game-winning kicks in college, but beating North Texas and East Carolina pales by comparison to knocking off the San Diego Chargers.
“He’s got guts,” said punter/holder Dustin Colquitt. “that’s a pressure kick right there. He showed us he belongs here. I told him during the timeout, ‘Just be you.’
“I always tell him, ‘Let the foot do the work, not up here,’” Colquitt said, pointing to his head. “Every athlete is guilty of that, whether they’re a kicker, a quarterback, a pitcher, a punter … I told him let the foot do the work, and that’s what he did. He kicked it well.”
And the kick validated the Chiefs’ decision to go with a rookie.
“Listen, the kid won the job,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I felt like he was going to make it. He’s made the opportunities he’s had during the last couple of games. He was due for an opportunity like this. He stepped up and did a heck of a job.”