SAN DIEGO -- Rookie kicker Cairo Santos didn’t just vindicate himself by making a 48-yard field goal in the final seconds to lift the Kansas City Chiefs to a 23-20 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
He also rewarded the Chiefs for their belief in him. The Chiefs decision to keep Santos, who was undrafted, instead of veteran Ryan Succop looked like a mistake early in the season. Santos missed two of his first four field goal attempts while Succop, now with the Tennessee Titans, made all four of his in his new team’s season-opening win over the Chiefs.
But general manager John Dorsey never wavered.
"What he was in college was a model of consistency," Dorsey said. "He set the NCAA record for consecutive field goals. He’s always been mentally tough. You go back and study the kickers. All the great ones started slow in their careers.
"He’s young. He had to grow and that’s what he’s doing. This kick showed it."
Santos’ streak of 26 successful field goals while in college at Tulane is actually the second-longest in NCAA history but that’s a minor point. The bigger picture is that Santos, who made all three of his field goal tries on Sunday, is on a roll. He has made six straight field goal attempts.
He also succeeded where Succop failed last year, in the final moments of a game at Qualcomm Stadium. Succop missed a 41-yard field goal attempt that would have broken a tie. Instead, that game went to overtime and the Chiefs lost.
That bit of history wasn’t lost on Santos. He said he watched that game last season on TV.
"I had a couple of (successful) kicks in a row now to build my confidence," he said when asked how he avoided the same San Diego fate as Succop. "This is how I’ve been kicking in training camp and the preseason."
The Chiefs' unwavering belief in Santos may have pulled him through his slump. As Dorsey indicated, it’s not uncommon for established kickers to have a similar rough patch at some point early in their careers.
San Diego’s Nick Novak once kicked for the Chiefs, who cut him after a prolonged slump. He’s now made a franchise-record 31 straight field goals.
"The coaches and my teammates helped me a lot, telling me that I belong and that’s why I’m here," Santos said. "Kickers go through those kind of hiccups.
"When I was going through the struggles, I got calls from guys like Robbie Gould. He was kind enough to give me a call out of nowhere and just shared he started his rookie season 3-for-6 and ended up having an OK year and look at the career he’s had. Kickers go through that."