Chiefs’ Cairo Santos keeps steady head, leg through hot start

Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (5) made the first of his seven field goals in Sunday’s 36-21 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (5) made the first of his seven field goals in Sunday’s 36-21 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati.

Dustin Colquitt knew what the record was. The Chiefs' veteran punter had been a part of it, back in 2012, when he served as the holder in then-kicker Ryan Succop's six-field goal in a 27-24 win over New Orleans.

So, shortly after Cairo Santos tied Succop's record on Sunday with a 29-yarder with 9:28 left in the fourth quarter, Colquitt did not hesitate to tell Santos that he was on the verge of history — superstition be darned.

“I’m not a very superstitious person, so I didn't think that (telling him) was going to do anything,” Colquitt said. “When you’re having that good of a day, superstitions go out the window because he’s just going to come out and do it again.”

Colquitt proved to be correct, as Santos went on to drill his Chiefs-record seventh field goal during the fourth quarter of a 36-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

In retrospect, however, it was a bittersweet moment for the Chiefs second-year kicker.

“At that point, I wasn’t hoping to get the seventh,” Santos said. “And I kind of forgot about it until I got in the locker room and people were telling me about it. So I actually just forgot. Because like I said, I was hoping for the touchdown, maybe have a chance to get back in the game.”

But Santos was excited after his record-setting 51-yard kick, though it was for another reason. He had already made a field goal from the same distance earlier that day, but the degree of difficulty on the final one was a bit tougher, as it came against the wind in a stadium that was a reputation for being quite blustery.

So when they both saw the way the football exploded off of Santos' foot and knife through the air toward the center of the uprights — no chance it was missing — they both let out audible screams.

“He didn’t even hardly get through his swing and we’re just like ‘Whoa!’, because you could see it catch and just hold its power all the way through the kick,” Colquitt said. “We both started laughing, and he goes ‘Oh did you see the laces!’

“It was, like, a validation. It was cool.”

Especially when you consider that Santos, as a rookie, only made one kick over 50 yards last year. He's surpassed that mark already this season, drilling two of three from that distance and 10 of 11, overall, on his way to a strong start.

“Well, Cairo, he’s in a groove right now — he’s hitting the ball well,” special teams coach Dave Toub said. “He’s made good contact with it. He looks good in practice and he’s carrying that over to the game.”

Santos' exploits — he's also a perfect 8-for-8 on extra points and has upped his touchback percentage from 32.5 percent to 62.5 — stands out in a league where kickers are struggling more than usual.

The NFL's decision to move extra points from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line has certainly resulted in it being a more competitive play, as kickers have missed 17 extra points this season, more than doubling last year's total of eight.

“There’s been a few misses — I think it’s what they thought, I think they’re getting what they wanted,” Toub said of the NFL.

Toub said Santos' increased leg power has also helped him — Santos says he's up to 176 pounds after playing last year at 167 — but he also credits Colquitt and long snapper James Winchester for being consistent and keeping the process smooth.

“We want to be flawless,” Winchester said. “Dustin, he’s kind of like Cairo’s caddy. He can tilt the ball, he can do all sorts of things, you know, and help Cairo out.”

On Santos' record-setting kick, it turns out Colquitt tweaked the lean of the football after receiving it from Winchester in an effort to give it more distance and less draw. They've been practicing this for a while, but it's the first time he's tried that hold in a game — and it worked to perfection.

“As soon as I saw it going through, I yelled ‘Yeah, that was awesome,’ just because we saw the ball staying so true, especially because of the hold,” Santos said. “Props to him, he’s the one that comes up with those types (of ideas).”

Given the result of the kick, it probably won't be the last time they try it, either.

“We’ve had to do that here, against Buffalo late in the year when Ryan was here and up in Washington when it gets really bad,” Colquitt said.

In the meantime, the Chiefs don't have to worry about their kicker getting a big head after his record-setting performance. Football will keep you honest — he shanked a kickoff late in the game that gave the Bengals good field position and he also remembers his struggles a year ago, when he drew criticism for missing two of his first four field goal attempts.

“Having guys like (Colquitt), guys like Coach Toub, he would never let me get too happy or too low on myself,” Santos said. “I have the mentality that there’s two things that are holding me (back) from being happy about that game — not getting a win and kicking off out of bounds because that's something I should never do and normally never do.

“So there’s always something to get better at. There's never a reason to think I’m (already) good enough, (or) I don’t need to get better or practice.”

Colquitt, an 11-year pro who has seen it all, agrees.

“You know, you’re only as good as your last kick,” Colquitt said. “We have a funny shaped foot and it’s a funny shaped ball and funny things can happen, but he’s not of that kind of guy that's going to change when good things or bad things come. He’s dealt with adversity early and made it through that and has also made some huge kicks for us.

“With his body type, too, the way he kicks off, he can play this game for a long time if he takes it one kick at time, just like I take it one hold and one punt at a time. You have to do that in the business and with what we do, punting and kicking.”

Terez A. Paylor: 816-234-4489, @TerezPaylor. Tap here to download the new Red Zone Extra app for iOS and Android devices.