Blaine Gabbert continued to utilize tight ends on Sunday.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback connected with tight ends Garrett Celek and Blake Bell nine times for 138 yards in a 19-13 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
In Gabbert's three starts this season, the fifth-year signal-caller has completed 19 of his 62 passes and all four of his touchdowns to the position group.
McDonald, in particular, has stepped up for the 49ers offense in recent weeks. The 6-foot-4, 267-pound tight had nine receptions for 64 yards in his first eight games of the regular season. He has since caught 10 passes for 136 yards in back-to-back weeks.
"He's doing a great job," Gabbert said. "He's working his tail off, and he's playing at an extremely high level right now. (He's) blocking well in the run game, catching the ball, and he had some big plays today."
After Garrett Celek was carted off the field on Sunday with a high-ankle sprain, McDonald and Bell became primary targets for the 49ers offense. They both responded with career-high totals.
"We knew they were playing man-to-man (coverages), and we won our matchups," McDonald said. "That's huge against Arizona, a big pressure team."
McDonald produced a career-best, six catches for 71 yards and added an 8-yard touchdown reception. McDonald has scored touchdowns in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, too.
Bell, San Francisco's fourth-round selection, posted a career-high 48-yard reception to help set up McDonald's touchdown. Bell's run-and-catch moment stood as Gabbert's longest completion against the Cardinals. Bell went on to post a three-catch, 67-yard performance in the defeat.
"I was just ready for when my time is called," Bell said. "Usually I am in there with three tight ends, but with Celek going down, I was just trying to be ready. Coach (Jim Tomsula) always says just be ready on your turn. I was just out there doing whatever I could to help the team."
McDonald expressed his feelings on the game's outcome overshadowing individual production.
"I'm doing anything in my power to win the game," he said. "I don't care about catches."
Despite the loss, both pass-catchers continued to showcase their improved play in the late stages of the regular season.
"I thought we did a great job of moving the ball," Bell said. "I thought the offense was clicking and other than that, I thought we just need to finish a couple more drives and get into the end zone. We knew coming in that we needed touchdowns, and we just came up short today."