Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler got a whole new lease on life, throwing a 39-yard strike to Devin Aromashodu in overtime to lead the Bears to a 36-30 victory last night over the Minnesota Vikings in Chicago.

The Bears' win further muddled the NFC's playoff picture, putting the Eagles in position to seize the No. 2 spot (and a first-round bye) from Minnesota with a victory over Dallas on Sunday. Under certain circumstances, either the Arizona Cardinals or the Cowboys (or both) could leapfrog the Vikings.

The game-winning TD was set up by Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who punched the ball out of the arms of Vikings star Adrian Peterson in overtime.

Cutler, not looking like the quarterback who has thrown way too many interceptions this season, then threw his fourth touchdown pass of the evening.

Chicago took an early 16-0 lead, but the Vikings got two second-half scores from Peterson, both from 1 yard out, and two second-half TD passes from Brett Favre to tie the game at 30.

Bears rookie Johnny Knox injured an ankle while returning a kickoff in the third quarter and had to be taken off the field on a cart. Later, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was carted off after suffering an injury while making a tackle.

Redskins. Washington has interviewed one of the team's assistants for the head-coaching position, the head of the group that monitors the Rooney Rule said yesterday.

Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten said secondary coach Jerry Gray interviewed with owner Dan Snyder several weeks ago for the job that is now held by Jim Zorn.

The news reaffirms the expectation that Snyder will fire Zorn next week. Former Denver coach Mike Shanahan is considered the favorite to get the job. Zorn is nearing the end of his second season with Washington (4-11).

Wooten, a former Eagles executive, said the interview satisfies the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to talk to a minority candidate when filling a head-coaching position. He said it didn't matter that the job is not yet vacant.

Giants. A day after a no-show performance led to their being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in five years, coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning apologized to New York Giants fans for their play in a 41-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the team's final game at Giants Stadium.

"I apologize. I'm sorry. I wish I had an answer," Manning said yesterday in a very quiet locker room. "I wish we could have come out and played better football. I don't have the answer to why it happened or why it has happened kind of throughout the season where we have been up and down in our play."

Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson wondered whether this team had the pride, passion and heart that has been a trademark of Giants teams. "You have to go out and play with an attitude, and I don't necessarily see that in any of these guys," he said after the game.

Panthers. A day after Carolina (7-8) routed the Giants for its third win in four games, the Charlotte Observer reported coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney will be "offered the opportunity to return next season" by owner Jerry Richardson.

The report also said Fox will not be given a contract extension. He's due to make more than $6 million in 2010, the final season of his deal.

The team declined to confirm or deny the report.

Noteworthy. New Cleveland president Mike Holmgren has not decided if coach Eric Mangini will be back next season. . . . Miami inside linebacker Channing Crowder will miss the rest of the season with a right foot injury.