The Kansas City Chiefs will play a divisional playoff game at home on Sunday. The weather will be cold and miserable. Replace the opponent of the Steelers with the Colts and Chiefs fans are feeling déjà vu.
I only bring up that painful memory to point to a large factor in the game on Sunday; kicking. Chiefs’ fans remember the kicker who will remain nameless. Over his two seasons he was the second-most accurate kicker in Chiefs history. Going into the game he was viewed as a strength. In 24 hours he went from a strength of the team to no longer on the team.
Fast forward 19 seasons and the Chiefs season could come down to a kicker again. This time around, it’s Cairo Santos. For those who don’t pay attention to kickers, here’s some background.
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He played his college ball at Tulane where he was a consensus All-American and won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker. The Chiefs picked him up as an undrafted free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft. He surprised most of Kansas City when he beat out veteran Ryan Succop for the starter job during training camp.
Since then he’s been the most accurate kicker in Chiefs history making 84 percent of his kicks. He has made seven field goals in a single game and led the team in scoring each season. Santos has been nails from beyond 50 yards in his career, including being 2-for-2 this season and tying a Chiefs record with four in 2015.
Santos doesn’t just pad his stats in meaningless games either. He has been as clutch as any Chiefs kicker in recent memory. He made his first game-winner over the Chargers during his rookie season. We all remember his two walk-offs this season. The first came after the Marcus Peters strip fumble against the Panthers. The second against the Broncos and will go down in Chiefs history as “The Doink.” It may not have been perfect, but it capped off what was one of the greatest games in Chiefs history.
These aren’t just regular season numbers for him either as Santos has picked his game up in the playoffs. In his two career playoff games last season Santos is 5-of-5 on extra points and 5-of-5 on field goals. One of those five field goals was a 49-yard kick against the Texans which became the longest postseason field goal in Chiefs history. He made three in perfect dome weather in Houston and two in bitter cold in New England.
In 1995, I’m sure someone wrote an article about what a strength that kicker was. How he’d helped the Cowboys win a Super Bowl. But what they’ll forget is how he had missed six kicks in his previous four games. Field goal kickers are like golfers; once you get the shanks it’s hard to reverse it. Santos does not have the shanks heading into Sunday.
Santos has missed only seven kicks all season including extra points. In the last nine games the only kicks he’s missed were two extra points. Look for Santos to rise to the occasions should it present itself on Sunday night.