McDonald, Bell fill void for 49ers after starting TE Celek injured

Vance McDonald posted career highs with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Kelley L Cox/Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

An injury to their starting tight end did not slow the San Francisco 49ers' passing game Sunday.

In fact, both Vance McDonald and rookie Blake Bell had their most productive days in the NFL once Garrett Celek was sidelined with a high ankle sprain early in the first quarter. McDonald set career highs with six receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' 19-13 loss to Arizona.

“He’s doing a great job,” San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert said of McDonald. “He’s working his tail off and he’s playing an extremely high level right now  — blocking in the run game, catching the ball, and he had some big plays today.”

McDonald never had more than two catches in a game through his first three seasons until he hauled in four receptions for 65 yards and a TD in last weekend's loss at Seattle. He's seen an uptick in his playing time since Vernon Davis was dealt to Denver at the trade deadline and has formed a connection with Gabbert after Colin Kaepernick was benched.

“There are a light of moving parts,” McDonald said. “Blaine and Kap are completely different players. Vernon being gone is another huge thing. One-on-one matchups were huge today and the tight ends were easy wins for us, but we’ve got to win the game.”

Bell, a fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, had only three catches entering Sunday's contest but matched their with three receptions for 67 yards, including a 48-yarder.

“I was just ready when my name was called,” Bell said. “Usually I’m in there with three tight ends, but with Celek going down, I was trying to be ready.”

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