When Bears kicker Cairo Santos has a home game, he faces two opponents: the team he’s playing and Soldier Field.
And it's not just because of the winds along Lake Michigan. As pretty much anyone who has ever watched a game at Soldier Field knows, the playing surface is an issue.
"It really is our biggest opponent. Just the wind and the field,” Santos said Saturday.
Against the 49ers last Sunday, the field was in particularly bad shape and it proved costly when Santos missed what would have been a game-tying extra point in the fourth quarter.
“It is (an opponent). And I like to respect it because just because you had success, each game, each kick, it can be different out there because the field really gets torn up,” Santos said. “It’s not like a flat surface. It’s just sand, soft sand really. So you just have to step on it or something to make it flat and you’ve got the play clock. So you don’t have much time to do it. You just have to have a plan and go.”
Santos, who has made a Bears franchise record 38 straight field goals, finally got beat by Soldier Field on an extra point. It was his first true missed PAT since joining the Bears in 2020 (he had one blocked in Los Angeles last year) and the explanation was pretty simple.
“That one was kind of easy to understand. Just as soon as I planted, I fell back and pushed and everything just kind of gets hung out to the right,” Santos said.
The south end of Soldier Field was particularly torn up last week, with large areas in between the hashes lacking actual grass. When Santos ran out for the extra point, which the Bears planned to line up at the right hash, he knew right away there was an issue.
“There was kind of a hole there, and we stepped on it and talked about, should we move it inside the hash? Or outside the hash? And then we looked at the play clock, and it was, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go. So let’s just use the hash mark.’ And it gave up on me."
The conditions Santos deals with in his home stadium make his current field goal streak even more impressive. He’s only six made field goals shy of tying Adam Vinatieri’s NFL record of 44 straight makes. And considering the playing surface can fail Santos at any moment, he’s fortunate it happened on an extra point.
“It just made sense why that ball stayed right and everything because I felt like I was so in control of the kicks, having made three field goals in the game. I just felt really good,” Santos said. “So I didn’t expect it to hang toward that upright. It was just kind of like, it got me. I’ll give Soldier Field this one, and I’ll take the others and come back stronger.”
The challenge won’t be any easier this week at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, which also has a reputation for windy conditions and a poor playing surface. The good news is, according to Santos, the field was just re-sodded.
“It was really bad leading up to now, and then I think they (were) away, so they’re changing it,” Santos said. “It should be a fresh field. But sometimes fresh fields are — they’ll settle. They move a little bit, so we’ll just get a feel for it, but it shouldn’t be chewed up as far as sand spots and stuff. It should be just all normal grass.”
The current weather forecast only calls for light winds, but Santos plans to get out on Heinz Field three to four hours before the game and walk it before he even warms up, as he does every week “to make mental notes on everything I see.”
And now he feels like he has a better plan if they encounter a bad spot on the field.
“I think I added something to my arsenal of how to deal with elements by seeing what a tough spot to kick from is and now moving the ball, trying to find a better spot, so I think it prepared us for if the field is not great this week or moving forward, because of what happened last game, I think we learned and got better,” Santos said.
As for the streak, Santos isn’t really afraid to talk about it.
“If it ends, it’s going to be fun starting a new one,” he said. "It’s been easy to deal with because it’s so hard to get to this point. So let’s enjoy the ride.