How Cairo Santos Saved the Chiefs Season (So Far)
By Kenny Cember
We wanted his head on a plate served up with a Joe’s Kansas City Z-man and some fries a couple weeks ago. We were wondering if a million and change was really worth it to sacrifice peace of mind. Turns out, not replacing rookie kicker and former Lou Groza award winner Cairo Santos was the right move. The 23-year-old Brazilian out of Tulane has quietly calmed Chiefs fans down after hitting a 48-yard field goal with 26 seconds left to take a 23-20 lead against the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday. Cairo Santos had also connected from 40 and 28 yards earlier in the game as well as two extra points. He was responsible for 11 points this past weekend. His perfect performance was one that I would describe as “season saving.”
Going into the San Diego game, the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs knew that not only was the game going to be a must-win, but that is was also going to be a really tough game. Philip Rivers, aka Phyllis Rivers aka Felipe Rios, had been playing MVP-caliber football until this point. The San Diego Chargers were in the top two in both NFL.com and ESPN.com’s power rankings (but we know to take those with a grain of salt). The Chiefs were coming off a bye following a really tough loss to what seems to be a pedestrian San Francisco 49ers team. If you follow me on Twitter, if you have read some of my previous stuff, you all know that my fan philosophy is “Expect the worst, hope for the best.” This week, I had faith in the Chiefs.
Andy Reid is 14-2 all-time coming off of a bye and the Chargers had beaten one good team in six games. In their most previous victory, they had allowed 28 points to the worst team in the NFL, by record and according to Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, the Oakland Raiders. The Chargers started their opening drive with a three-and-out, followed by a Chiefs three-and-out. The teams then exchange another three-and-out. The following drive, the Chargers scored a touchdown, which was followed by a game-tying, running score from running back Jamaal Charles, who also became team’s all-time leading rusher on that play. Charles also concussed former Chiefs and current Chargers defensive back Brandon Flowers on the play. Santos hits the extra point and the game is officially tied at seven. The Chiefs were dominating the time of possession battle and were looking to go into halftime up 10-7 after Santos made a 28 yarder. After a near strip sack and three-and-out by the Chargers, with a lead, disaster struck.
Andy Reid let 25 seconds tick off the clock in classic, Andy-Reid-poor-clock-management fashion. Then came the awful, normally sure-handed, Junior Hemingway drop. The drop that, coincidentally, would have almost certainly lead to a 6- or 10-point half time lead, ended in a three-and-out for the Chiefs. This was then followed by a six-play, 80-yard, 41-second drive that led to a 14-10 Chargers lead. All the momentum was in the Chargers’ favor going into the half.
The Chiefs then had a solid, 12-play, 60-yard, six-minute-and-25 second drive that ended in a 40 yard Cairo Santos field goal. Once again, the story of this drive was a dropped pass. This time, it was from veteran receiver Dwayne Bowe. On third and six Dwayne Bowe let a pass go right through his hands that would’ve put the Chiefs in the red zone. Instead they had to settle for three. Cairo Santos answered the call once again to give the Chiefs some points and to whittle the Chargers lead down to just one, 14-13.
The Chiefs defense then held San Diego to a three and out and then held the ball for the rest of the third quarter and scored a touchdown on a fantastic catch and run from fullback Anthony Sherman on the first play of the fourth quarter. Santos nails the extra point and the Chiefs are up 20-14 with 14 minutes and 50 seconds left to play. The Chargers answered with a five minute 12 second drive that ended in a field goal, cutting the lead to three. The Chiefs then held the ball for another four minutes, but could not put more points on the board and punted the ball away to San Diego.
Phillip Rivers, looking to lead the Chargers to their seventh victory of the season, was then bailed out on a third-and-nine pass interference penalty called on Marcus Cooper’s replacement, defensive back Jamell Fleming. Most of us had never heard of Fleming before Sunday’s game, but it sure looked like he was going to cost the Chiefs the football game. Fleming then redeemed himself after breaking up a pass on third-and-11 intended for receiver Malcolm Floyd, forcing the Chargers to settle for a game-tying, 48-yard field goal by kicker Nick Novak.
It was that time. The time where Chiefs fans had no choice but to rely on two things Chiefs fans wouldn’t rely on. These things were the arm of Alex Smith, and the leg of Cairo Santos. Smith’s key play came on second-and-15, after a false start on offensive tackle Eric Fisher. Smith dropped back to pass and was flushed out of the pocket after Chargers defensive end Dwight Freeney put a nasty spin move on Fisher. Smith rolled out to the left and found Dwayne Bowe for 19 yards. A few plays later after some key passes to tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs found themselves in a fourth-and-two situation with 26 seconds left in the game, tied 20-20.
Santos had made his first two field goals of 28 and 40 yards. He had hit both extra points. He, at this point, was four of his last four kicks. Chiefs fans were on the edge of their seats. I may, or may not, have been on the edge of a cliff. The snap was good, the hold was good, and the rookie kicker from Brazil, the kid who had learned to play football by playing Madden, hooked the ball inside the left upright to give the Chiefs a 23-20 lead and eventually, the win.
Most of us watched the game. Most of us saw what happened. In previous games, the Chiefs had always had that dreaded missed field goal that sank the team’s morale and ended in a Chiefs loss. Not this time. After a missed kick in Tennessee, and another key missed kick in Denver, we, as fans, were beginning to wonder whether it was really worth it to save a little over a million dollars by cutting a veteran and putting our faith in an unproven rookie, who had a shaky senior year at Tulane.
As a former kicker, I can identify with Santos. My faith in him is restored. The Chiefs are now 3-3, and more importantly, 1-1 in the division, heading into five winnable games because our rookie kicker answered the call in an all-important game where he did not miss ONE kick. Cairo Santos may well have saved the 2014 football season for the Kansas City Chiefs.