KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The previous kicker that the Kansas City Chiefs employed was Mr. Irrelevant.
The current one could soon be called Mr. Dependable.
After beating out veteran Ryan Succop for the job in training camp, undrafted rookie Cairo Santos has validated every bit of trust the Chiefs coaching staff placed on him.
He’s made 14 consecutive field goals and all 33 of his extra-point attempts, becoming one of the few constants in what has suddenly turned into a tumultuous season.
“I don’t like to look at statistics until the end. I’m just thinking about the next kick,” said Santos, a Brazilian who grew up playing soccer before turning to football in high school.
“Whatever the streak may be, I want to continue it and get the next one,” he said. “At the end if it’s 14 or if it’s 30 or zero, it’s still the next kick. That’s how I approach everything.”
This isn’t the first time Santos has been on an impressive streak, either.
The diminutive kid who got overlooked by most major colleges and wound up at Tulane once made 26 straight field goals before getting a kick blocked. He was four shy of the Division I record of 30 consecutive makes, set by Washington’s Chuck Nelson during the 1981 and ‘82 seasons.
“You want to get in a rhythm,” Santos said, “and I’ve kicked for a lot of years now, but I feel like going from college to the NFL, there’s a big difference in the speed of the game. That’s something that kind of caught me at the beginning.”
That may be a big reason why he missed two of his first four attempts, including one in the season opener against Tennessee — the team that signed Succop after he was released by the Chiefs.
Naturally, Succop had Chiefs fans crying foul when he proceeded to bang through all four of his field-goal attempts in that game. But that shouldn’t have been a surprise, either, considering Succop was statistically the most accurate field-goal kicker in Chiefs history, despite being the very last selection in the 2009 draft out of South Carolina.
To his credit, Succop never treated the competition for the kicking job in Kansas City as anything more than competition.
Rather than shun the new guy aiming for his job, he often took Santos under his wing at training camp. The two of them would often appear on the field before the rest of the team, booming kicks through the uprights in a game of one-upsmanship.
That game wound up carrying over to practice, when coach Andy Reid began having them kick against each other in a World Cup-style shootout. It was then that Santos proved he had a more powerful leg, and that given the opportunity, he could be every bit as accurate.
“He’s coming around. He’s gaining confidence every game,” Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said. “Then it carries in his kickoffs because he’s bombing them, too.”
On the season, Santos is 16 for 18 for an 88.9 percent success rate. That would rank fourth in franchise history behind only seasons by Pete Stoyanovich and Nick Lowery.
Until last week in Arizona, when the Chiefs did not attempt a field goal, Santos had knocked through at least one in nine straight games. And his 16 field goals are the third most by a rookie in franchise history, trailing only Succop (26, 2009) and Jan Stenerud (21, 1967).
“I think of Aaron Rodgers at the beginning and (the Packers) kind of struggled too, and I remember he would continue to say, ‘Relax,’ and once he started saying that they got on a roll,” Santos said. “That’s kind of how I’ve been approaching it, too.”
His consistency is certainly welcome in Kansas City, where the Chiefs looked awful at the start of the year, like world-beaters during a five-game win streak, and are now mired in a three-game skid with Oakland — the team that started them on it — coming to town on Sunday.
“For me, I’m just glad things are starting to go the way they were going in training camp and preseason,” Santos said. “Things are going well and I hope they continue to go that way.”