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On a hot streak, Bears kicker Cairo Santos braces for ‘challenging’ Heinz Field

Santos’ battle on home Sundays is as much against the wind and grass of Soldier Field as it is the opposing team. On Monday night, he’ll play at another difficult stadium.

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Bears kicker Cairo Santos boots a field goal against the Raiders.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Bears kicker Cairo Santos hasn’t missed a field goal since Sept. 27, 2020. But that doesn’t make him perfect.

After quarterback Justin Fields’ electrifying touchdown run against the 49ers, Santos pushed an extra point that would’ve tied the game wide right.

The culprit: a divot on Soldier Field’s suspect turf. During an injury timeout before the kick, Santos tried to tamp down the sand on the field next to the hash mark. At the snap, Santos stepped and sunk a little, causing his right foot to swing through a bit late.

“Each kick, it can be different out there,” Santos said, “because the field really gets torn up. It’s not like a flat surface. It’s just sand — soft sand, really.”

Santos’ battle on home Sundays is as much against the wind and grass of Soldier Field as it is the opposing team. On Monday night, he’ll play at Heinz Field, which is notoriously different to kick in, particularly at the open end, where the winds rush in off the Ohio River. The Steelers’ home grass is famously inconsistent, too.

Santos knows what lies ahead — “There can be times that the [open] end is challenging,” he said — but he has some inside knowledge. Bears special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor coached there once a year over seven seasons with the Browns. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell is one of Santos’ best friends. Santos said they’ve “been exchanging a lot of tips about that place.”

The Bears will need Santos to make a pressure kick if they want to upset the Steelers. He hasn’t let them down in more than 13 months. Santos has made 38 consecutive field goals in the regular season, the longest active streak in the NFL and only six shy of the all-time record set by Adam Vinatieri in 2016 with the Colts.

Santos’ streak is remarkable, given the Bears’ recent history. Cody Parkey missed seven field goals in 16 regular-season games before double-doinking the potential game-winner that ended the Bears’ 2018 playoff run. Eddy Pineiro missed five the next season.

Santos might not be here, though, were it not for a former Bears kicker. As a rookie in 2014, he missed a kick in each of his first two games. Robbie Gould reached out to offer support; Santos didn’t miss another kick for three months.

“I want to have the legacy that he left here,” Santos said.

The Bears try to downplay Santos’ remarkable run — “What streak?” coach Matt Nagy said — but it’s becoming harder to do so. Santos first thought about it as he was warming up for the season opener — an NBC sideline reporter asked him about it. He wasn’t worried about it then and claims he isn’t now.

“That’s been the mentality — just like I can’t get to whatever the record is, or 40, unless I get to 39 first,” he said. “So it has been just thinking about the next one. And once I get to 39, I’ll think about 40. It’s been that mentality. [I’m] not worried if it ends — it’s going to be fun starting a new one.

“It’s been easy to deal with because it’s so hard to get to. So to get to this point, let’s enjoy the ride.”