Antonio Brown is the best player in the NFL.
If that's not evident in his statistics, then it is in his heroics.
Not only does Brown lead the league in receptions and receiving yards, but he has set up the Steelers for three consecutive last-minute victories.
No wonder talk around the NFL is that AB should be MVP.
Even New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick endorsed the Steelers wide receiver.
“Absolutely, he's a great player,” said Belichick, who continued with the hyperbole. “Give it to (Le'Veon) Bell, too. Give it to (Ben) Roethlisberger, too, if you want to. They're all really good.”
That's part of the problem.
For one, the leading candidate plays for the Patriots. Belichick doesn't have to endorse Tom Brady, the game's greatest quarterback now and maybe in NFL history.
Quarterbacks have won the MVP award nine of the past 10 years, with 2,000-yard rusher Adrian Peterson the lone exception in 2012. No receiver ever has been named MVP.
Staggering numbers: Brown should become the first. He leads the league with 99 receptions, 1,509 receiving yards, eight 100-yard games, six 10-reception games, 70 receptions for first downs and 16 receptions of 25 yards or more.
“He deserves to be an MVP candidate, if not the MVP,” Roethlisberger said. “I mean, the first wide receiver to get it, I don't know anyone more deserving. You look at what he's able to do and what he's capable of doing every week.”
But Brown can't do it without Ben: “I don't know if he's caught a pass from anybody else yet this year, so I guess I contribute to a lot of it.”
Roethlisberger has thrown every pass Brown has caught, and some have been picture-perfect.
Bell has an NFL-best 358 touches, and leads the league in rushing yards (1,105), scrimmage yards (1,684), total first downs (89) and receptions by a running back (75).
'Something spectacular:' So you can make an argument, as Belichick did, that you can't prioritize one player on the Steelers. In that case, Brown has competition from Bell for team MVP honors.
The difference is what Brown has done, in Big Ben's words, is “something spectacular.”
Belichick was asked what makes Brown special. His response: “Everything. Just make a list.”
Here goes: Brown has been the catalyst since the season opener at Cleveland, when he had 11 catches for 182 yards and made a sensational 38-yard catch in double coverage.
His 51-yard touchdown broke open the win at undefeated Kansas City, and he had three touchdowns in the victory over Tennessee.
But his performances in the past three games is what separates MVPs from All-Pros.
At his best when needed most: Brown has been their best player when the Steelers needed it most.
He had 10 catches for 169 yards against the Packers, including a toe-drag circus catch to set up Chris Boswell's winning field goal.
He had eight catches for 101 yards at Cincinnati, including the 6-yarder to tie the score despite taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Bengals safety George Iloka.
Brown saved his best for Baltimore, with 11 catches for 213 yards, including a 34-yarder that set up Boswell's winner to clinch the AFC North division title.
“It's always on the bucket list,” Brown said of the MVP race, with Brady, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Philadelphia's Carson Wentz. “Even to be mentioned with those guys is something special. We all know it's a quarterback league. To be mentioned with those guys, I'm extremely honored and I'm extremely grateful for it.”
It's a quarterback league, but Brown deserves to be the NFL's MVP — even if he plays a position that has never won the honors.
It's time to kick that bucket.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.