The Bears’ north end zone is littered with the ghosts of Bears kickers past — or at least those who came after Robbie Gould.
In Week 11 of 2017, Connor Barth — the original Robbie Replacement— pushed a potential game-tying 46-yard field goal so far right into Soldier Field’s north end zone hat it was barely captured by the television camera, which instead focused on the Bears’ mascot. Wearing an old-timey suit to match the Bears’ throwback uniforms, Staley dropped to his knees, dejected, as the Lions celebrated a 27-24 win. Barth was cut the next day and never kicked in a regular season game again.
Last year, Eddy Pineiro missed a 41-yard field goal — into the same end zone — that would have beaten the Chargers and snapped the Bears’ month-long losing streak. Pineiro wouldn’t make his next field goal for another three games.
Neither kicker can top Cody Parkey who, of course, double-doinked a 43-yarder into the north end zone that would have beaten the Eagles in a January 2019 playoff game. The Bears decided to cut him faster than you could say “Today Show.”
So when Cairo Santos pointed north to try a 38-yard kick with 1:13 to play Sunday, it was no ordinary field-goal try.
It was routine — NFL teams have made 133-of-138 kicks from 39 yards or closer this season. But if anyone would miss, wouldn’t it be a Bears player kicking into the north end zone?
Santos had the benefit of a golfer who’d seen the putting line before. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he made a 47-yarder into the same direction.
The fact he drilled the game-winner — and the defense then stopped Tom Brady to beat the Buccaneers 20-19 — bodes well both the Bears and the itinerant Santos, who’s played nine or fewer games each with the Bears, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Rams and Titans since the end of 2016.
The Bears signed veteran Kai Forbath to the practice squad Friday as insurance in case of injury or virus outbreak. Pineiro is still on injured reserve with a groin injury. Santos is the unquestioned starter.
The Bears might need Santos as much as he needs them.
“I really wanted the opportunity,” said Santos, who is 7-for-9. “I felt like I was due to have something like that. I just wanted to have a streak of games — and of makes — to get it going, and I knew I could kind of take off from there.”
Santos knows what that happens when kickers don’t. A year ago Tuesday, the Titans cut him after he missed four field goals in a three-point loss. The kicker they signed to replace him, ironically, was Parkey.
“Sometimes it just shocks me the way careers and stories happen,” he said. “I got released last year [by the Titans] the fifth game of the season on a bad game and here we are with a chance to play against my former team [the Bucs].
“As an athlete, you always want to have that. I used to watch soccer players have big games against their former teams. There is something special about it.”
To do so at Soldier Field it that much more special.
“There are just so many more elements than any other stadium,” said Santos, who travels to the stadium one weekday each home game week. “The grass is taller, it gets the sandy spots between the hashes, a lot of wind, it gets really cold … Last week it was cold and it was only the second home game of the year. It’s only going to get colder. …
“You really just need to be a good ball striker to succeed here in Chicago. And that’s what I’m focusing on doing.”
Of course, so did the previous kickers.
“I just kind of focus on myself every year,” he said. “That didn’t cross my mind that there hasn’t been a history of late kicks here lately. I got my opportunity — and knocked it through.”