Just when Bears kicker Cairo Santos has buried the past and rescued his career, he must revisit the site of his most epic disaster.
He’ll return to Nissan Stadium when the Bears face the Titans on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee. The last time he kicked there, he went 0-for-4 on field goals and was cut the next day.
There might be more pressure on him this week than there was in either of the game-on-the-line field goals he has made for the Bears this season.
But Santos seems as cool and confident as ever.
‘‘Nashville, I thought it was a great place to kick,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s going to be, I think, a good atmosphere to kick in and something I’m familiar with.’’
It wasn’t such a good atmosphere in October 2019. Santos was booed off the field after missing wildly from 53 yards with six minutes left in a game the Titans lost 14-7.
Nothing went right that day.
Santos opened by slicing a 50-yarder wide left in the second quarter, then shanked one wide right — by a lot — from 36 yards just before halftime. He found his footing by making a 38-yard extra point in the third quarter, but his 33-yard field-goal try in the fourth was tipped at the line and fell a few feet short of the crossbar.
He bottomed out with the 53-yard miss as coach Mike Vrabel closed his eyes in disgust, making him the only kicker in the last decade to go 0-for-4 in a game. Incidentally, the Titans replaced him with former Bears kicker Cody Parkey.
Santos called it ‘‘a very painful, extremely disappointing day,’’ and it was the first thing he was asked about when the Bears signed him before this season.
‘‘It was just a freak day, something that not even in my worst nightmares could happen,’’ he said in September. ‘‘Nobody’s immune to a day like that, so you always have to stay humble.
‘‘So I trust myself that I just had to move on. And I did.’’
He certainly did.
Santos has made 14 of 16 field goals this season, including the game-winner with 1:17 left against the Buccaneers and a 51-yard bomb with 13 seconds left to force overtime Sunday against the Saints. His only misses have been from 46 and 50 yards.
If Santos maintains his 87.5% field-goal accuracy, it’ll be the best by any Bears kicker other than Robbie Gould.
It’s stunning that, of all kickers, Santos might be the one to break the Curse of Robbie Gould. The Bears have tried five kickers — Santos, Mike Nugent, Connor Barth, Parkey and Eddy Pineiro — in four seasons since general manager Ryan Pace cut Gould. During that same span, Gould ranks sixth in the NFL at 89.7% of his field goals made.
Santos’ first stop in Chicago was in 2017 and lasted two weeks. He reinjured his groin in pregame warmups, went on injured reserve and bounced among the Jets, Rams, Buccaneers and Titans before the Bears brought him in as an emergency option after Pineiro suffered a knee injury in the preseason.
Knowing Pineiro would be out for a while, it was a controversial and gutsy call by Pace and coach Matt Nagy to bet the season on Santos. He impressed Nagy by making 85% of his field goals for the Chiefs in 2014-17, when Nagy was an assistant there, and that outweighed his brutal 19-for-29 ledger since.
Now, even if Pineiro was ready, it’s obvious the Bears would stick with Santos.
‘‘I think it’s just a guy that’s found his rhythm,’’ special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said.
Santos thought his three-year slump was entirely health-related, so now that his body is sound, his kicks are, too. He seems good mentally, as well, whether he’s facing the looming challenge of November and December field goals on the lakefront or dragging up memories of the worst day of his career.