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'He's got that dog in him': The two sides to Bears kicker Cairo Santos

Nicholas Moreano Avatar
November 27, 2023

LAKE FOREST — Cairo Santos is known for his calm, soft-spoken, go-with-the-flow demeanor.

That’s typically how most of Santos’ teammates know him. But the Bears’ kicker has an alternate personality come out of him after he makes a field goal.

In the 16-13 victory against the Panthers on Thursday Night Football in Week 10, Santos made all three of his field goals.

His first attempt was a 49-yard field goal to give the Bears their first points of the game. Santos kicked the ball through the uprights and began to quickly celebrate with his teammates.

But there was a flag on the play — a false start on veteran offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. The penalty moved the special teams unit back five yards and now Santos had a 54-yard field goal attempt.

The 5-foot-8, 175-pound kicker lined up and, again, kicked the ball through the uprights. That 54-yarder was Santos’ second-longest made field goal of his career, and he was pumped up about it.

“Yeah, he just kind of has that like, ‘Fuck yeah. I’m like that type attitude,'” Bears long snapper Patrick Scales said.

Punter Trenton Gill said that Santos made a stank face after the kick.

“He’s like an assassin you know,” Gill said. “You know when like a sniper takes a good shot? He like knows he is going to make it. Like he knows it’s going to be a good shot every time, so it’s like he’s pretty confident, proud you know.”

Santos said it’s great to express those emotions after a made kick because of how hard the special teams unit works to get those opportunities and execute them, but it doesn’t last long. At times only 20 seconds.

“It’s give or take, you know, just like a little moment,” Santos said. “I heard Tiger Woods say that in an interview that he allows himself to get angry but only for that. Just get it and then it’s over. You have to move on. I think it’s something that he might have been talking about teaching Charlie, his son, as it’s coming up to say, ‘It’s okay to be made to feel like that.’ In golf and kicking, I think there’s a lot of correlation and that you have to be even-keeled because the next shot’s gonna come up and you can’t let the good or bad in the past affect the next one.”

Although the emotions after a made or missed field goal come and go, Santos does realize the impact he can create when his teammates do see the other side of him.

“I think they kind of feed off a little bit because they see that we want that moment,” Santos said. “We can’t go out and hit guys. I can’t, you know, ‘Let’s go, J. Jones (Justin Jones), let’s get this sack together.’ He’s doing that and I’m just watching. You know, I can’t go, DJ Moore and, ‘Let’s go, man. Catch this 50-yard bomb.’ I can’t do that with them on the field, but when I get my opportunities and I capitalize on it and get pumped up, I hope they know that I’m with them in this war that is a football game. So, they’re counting on us and we want to give that energy. Put points on the board that you guys can trust us and we’re in this together.”

And when Santos goes onto the field, his teammates can feel his energy and it resonates throughout the entire team.

“It doesn’t matter where we are at,” Scales said. “We know as soon as we get in field goal range, that he’s locked in and we know he can make that shit. He’s got it in him. On top of that it feeds into the offense cause all the offense has to do is just get us there, man, and we’ll help it out. It’s complimentary football.”

Oct. 6, 2019: Bills @ Titans

In Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season, the Titans hosted the Bills at home. Santos was Tennessee’s kicker at the time.

Heading into that game, Santos had been 11 of 11 on extra points and made 4 of his 5 field goals. But against the Bills, he would go on to experience something completely career changing in the Titans 14-7 loss.

Santos went 0 for 4 on his field goal attempts. He missed a 50, 35 and 53-yard attempt, and also had a 33-yarder blocked. The Titans cut Santos one day after the loss, and he didn’t get a call from another team for the rest of the season. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the following season and he didn’t get a single workout until the Bears signed him in late August.

“Basically I went a long time just kind of waiting for the next opportunity,” Santos said. “So I think it allowed me just to like just be so hungry for one. And I knew that the next opportunity I got would be my last. Like I just felt that way because of the injuries and the bad game. So I just attacked months of like, I made changes to my kicks. I got healthier because I wasn’t taking a toll of an NFL season on my body. But I got hungry. I just got like, you know, every opportunity I had to bring it and I still feel lke to this day, kicking in Chicago I have to bring my A player, and I think that’s what’s brought the best of me in that moment to save my career.”

Since Santos joined the Bears in 2020, he has made 96 of his 105 field goal attempts. During his 2020 season, Santos made 27 straight field goals and finished with a 93.8 field goal percentage. Both of those achievements broke records that were previously held by Robbie Gould. Before the 2021 season, the Bears and Santos agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract extension.

Through the first 11 games of this season, Santos has made 19 of his 20 field goals and is 21 of 22 on extra point attempts. Outside of the 2017 season when he finished with a 100% field goal percentage on his three made kicks, his 95% field-goal success rate this season is the highest of his career.

“I knew that game never was going to define me like, you know, it was just such an off game for the kind of standards that I do,” Santos said. “That I knew it wasn’t going to define like I’m that inconsistent of a kicker.”

Even though that four field goal missed game led to some tough times for Santos afterward, the 32-year-old kicker now loves talking about that infamous performance.

“I do believe that I am here today because of what I learned,” Santos said. “I’ve had some bad games in these four years that I’ve had here. Everyone has. That game changed my life for the better to be honest. That’s how I viewed it.”

Something Santos has learned in his 10-year NFL career is how to stay mentally locked in during games. He will make sure he is loose and even has a ball teed up on each tripod in front of the two nets on opposite ends of the Bears’ sideline in case there is a big play.

Santos will even try to look ahead during a drive and predict what could happen. And with a teammate like Justin Fields, Santos said he always has to be ready because an explosive play can happen at any moment.

“So I feel like a lot of the game I spend in my own world,” Santos said. “Like just preparing for when I have a situation come up. I want to be in control of everything. When a field goal is called, I feel like I step into a routine that I try to simulate that routine every time I practice.”

The usually soft-spoken Santos doesn’t typically have much to say after he makes a field goal. He will let out an occasional, “Let’s go,” “Yeah” or simply just yell. He isn’t big into cussing either, but even that slight and brief celebration brings out the emotions from his teammates.

Scales said: “But then he makes those big kicks and you feel that energy come from him and you’re like, ‘Fuck yeah. He’s got that dog in him.'”

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