THE WORKING definition of "from bad to worse" manifested itself with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter yesterday. Emmanuel Acho was several steps slower than Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker on a 68-yard pass play, and Acho then left the game with a groin injury.

This left Casey Matthews and first-round rookie Marcus Smith as the team's only healthy potential middle linebackers, and Smith has worked inside in games only on a handful of plays here and there, since being moved in response to an earlier medical emergency, in Week 3.

We're assuming here that Acho won't play Thursday in Dallas. Rare is the groin injury that heals in 4 days. What do the Eagles do? Sure, they can sign someone, but teach them the defense by Thursday? Unlikely. Jake Knott will be eligible to return under the terms of his waived-injured settlement on Dec. 9, Knott said yesterday, but the Eagles will have played both the Cowboys and the Seahawks by then.

"Marcus is the next man up," defensive coordinator Bill Davis confirmed. Inside linebacker was the Birds' thinnest position when training camp began, so of course, they've lost DeMeco Ryans for the season to an Achilles' injury, Travis Long for the season to a knee injury, Najee Goode for the season to a pectoral tear, and Mychal Kendricks, who is now back, for four games to a calf strain.

Is Smith ready?

"He'll have to be," said Davis, who added that he could exert some control through his calls - meaning lots and lots more dime, probably. Eat your Wheaties, 205-pound dime linebacker Nolan Carroll.

"Obviously, it's tough on a short week," said Casey Matthews, who had been basically splitting Ryans' job with Acho. "We're going to have to go more dime . . . [Carroll is] athletic. If that's what we have to do, it's what we have to do."

How close does Matthews think Smith is to really helping?

"I think once he really locks in on what he's doing, it's not like he's not paying attention or anything - he's going to extra meetings - but obviously, inside 'backer is foreign to him. I think it's not too far off," Matthews said. "Obviously, we're going to need him . . . Guys are dropping left and right."

"Yep, that's fine with me," Smith said after yesterday's 43-24 victory over the visiting Titans. "If he's out for this next game, shoot, I'm ready to take on the responsibilities that I need to. How do I know? Just because I've been playing the inside 'backer position since Week 3 and it's just been getting better and better every week. I'm starting to get better mentally, as a football player. Once the bullets start flyin', I'll be ready."

Smith got in on some late-game passing situations against the Titans, the outcome already decided. Before that, post-Acho, it was Matthews in base and Carroll in dime, along with Kendricks.

"I feel like I did all right . . . I feel like I locked up the people I was going against. There still could be room for improvement, just from my mindset, but the more snaps that I get, I'll continue to get a lot better," Smith said.

Upright response

Eagles rookie kicker Cody Parkey lost his streak of consecutive field goals made when what would have been No. 18 in a row, a 49-yarder, boinked off the left upright just before halftime yesterday.

Parkey being Parkey, though, responded. He'd made a pair before the miss. After it, he added one from 35, one from 30 and finally, one from 50, setting the final score with 3 minutes and 17 seconds remaining.

Parkey is the first Eagle to hit four from 50 or more in a season. The. First.

"It's how you respond, and it's how you can come back with some makes, that makes you a great kicker," Parkey said. "If we need to kick 10 field goals, I'll do it for the team, as long as we win."

Parkey finished 5-for-6. The Eagles' record is six in a game.

Parkey said the miss "just didn't fall my way. Probably should have aimed it a little more right. It is what it is, and it's in the past."

Birdseed

Vinny Curry saw two sacks erased by penalties, one on Curry for grabbing Zach Mettenberger's facemask, though on replay it seemed more that his hand just brushed the facemask . . . The Eagles defeated the Titans for the first time in five meetings since the franchise moved from Houston . . . Josh Huff's 107-yard TD kickoff return broke Tim Brown's 1961 team record (105) and was the first opening-kickoff return for a touchdown by an Eagle since Brian Mitchell on Nov. 4, 2001 at Arizona . . . The Birds' 10 touchdowns on returns - kick punt, defensive TDs, etc. - lead the league . . . Jeremy Maclin finished the day 20 receiving yards short of 1,000 for the season, with five games left . . . James Casey has four touches now, and two TDs . . . Tough day for the Titans, not just on the scoreboard: They lost 2014 first-round left tackle Taylor Lewan, drafted 11th overall, to an ankle injury, starting center Brian Schwenke to a knee, safety Michael Griffin (shoulder), OLB Kamerion Wimbley (hamstring) and running backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey were being evaluated afterward for concussions.