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The moment that sparked Bears kicker Cairo Santos to a record-breaking 2020 season

Santos closed last season with 27 consecutive made field goals and landed a three-year, $9 million contract because of it.

Santos made 93.8% of his field goals last season, which was seventh in the NFL and best in Bears history.
AP Photos

As his 46-yard field goal drifted wide left and the Bears’ opening drive against the Falcons fell flat thanks to his miss, a familiar fear rose in Cairo Santos’ chest. That he would be worried the miss would cost him his job might sound like an overreaction, but he had been cut six times in three years — once by the Bears.

The end is always right around the -corner for kickers, and Santos felt himself sliding toward it. He thought about everything from his soon-to-be-born son to the prospect of finding a new career after football. That’s quite a swirl of emotions while standing on the sideline of an NFL game.

In that moment, though, he untangled himself from his anxiety. Enough. Santos couldn’t keep living that way. He let it all go. Maybe that miss would get him cut, and if not that one, maybe another one down the line. So be it.

“I put that pressure on myself that this has to be the opportunity that I bounce back. How many more opportunities am I going to keep getting?” he said Friday after practice. “I thought about [getting cut by] the Bucs, the Titans. So there we go again, I missed a kick in Atlanta.

“I just kind of accepted it. I started playing a little looser and put everything in God’s hands. I went one kick at a time, and here we are. It’s just humbling to go through that in the middle of a game and to just accept it and just kind of, it’s outside of my hands. Let me just go with it, one kick at a time.”

He made every field goal the rest of the season.

Santos made 93.8% of his attempts to finish seventh in the NFL and will look to continue his streak of 27 this season. Both of those numbers are -franchise records, and he ended years of kicking turmoil for the Bears. They signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract -extension in March.

A year ago, he got this chance only because Eddy Pineiro suffered a groin injury in the preseason. Santos missed four field goals for the Titans in a loss in October 2019, got cut the next day and sat unsigned for more than 10 months before the Bears called.

Now, everything is coming together nicely for Santos. His son was born in November, and by then he was firmly cemented as the Bears’ kicker. Now he has career stability, or as much of it as a kicker can realistically hope to have, after years of bouncing around.

“It’s a blessing — something that I was praying for for a long time,” he said. “I was already in that mode of maybe I’m transitioning to being a dad and a second career. Then I got a shot here.”

There’s genuine gratitude in his voice when he talks about the Bears, but that -feeling is absolutely mutual. It’s hard to say who rescued whom.

Santos, 29, is their fifth kicker since -releasing Robbie Gould shortly before the 2016 season. They went through a circus-like search after cutting Cody Parkey and still weren’t sure if they had their answer going into Pineiro’s second season. It seemed ludicrous that they turned to Santos after his career spiraled.

But they got that one right. The Bears and Santos were exactly what each other needed.