FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Deltha O'Neal flew home on his day off and talked with his puzzled 6-year-old daughter about his new job.
``She's really excited for me,'' the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback said. ``She's like, `you're no longer a Bengal. What are you?' I'm a Patriot.''
And thrilled to be one.
Blind-sided by his release by Cincinnati on Saturday, O'Neal didn't have much time to be disappointed. New England signed him, he returned home Tuesday, then came back to Foxborough and practiced Wednesday with the Super Bowl contender after four years with the mediocre Bengals.
No, he won't see his three young children in the Cincinnati area as much. But at least their daddy is enjoying his new surroundings.
``I've been excited since Sunday,'' O'Neal said Wednesday. ``You see me at home walking around, I've got a big cheesy grin on my face because I'm happy to be here. I just can't explain my words right now.''
The Patriots have won three of the last seven Super Bowls and were leading last February's game until the New York Giants scored the winning touchdown in the final minute. The Bengals made it to just one playoff game in O'Neal's four seasons with them - and lost. Their 7-9 record last year was their worst in those four seasons.
Still, Cincinnati decided it no longer needed a 31-year-old cornerback whose 10 interceptions in 2005 were tied for the NFL lead with former Patriot Ty Law, then with the New York Jets.
O'Neal had no idea his job was in jeopardy.
``It was a shocker to me, but that's politics and the business of the game,'' he said. ``As a player, you're going to have to go through stuff like that. So you've just got to move on.''
New England is a fitting destination.
The Patriots lost star cornerback Asante Samuel as a free agent to the Philadelphia Eagles after last season. They signed veterans Fernando Bryant and Jason Webster for that position, but both were released - Bryant after he had started throughout the exhibition season.
On Wednesday, the Patriots still listed rookie second-round draft pick Terrence Wheatley as their starting cornerback opposite fourth-year veteran Ellis Hobbs.
O'Neal is trying to pick up the defense quickly so he can contribute in Sunday's season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
``I'm still learning,'' he said, sitting in his locker surrounded by many more reporters than he saw in Cincinnati. ``I'm just getting ready as if I'm going to play this weekend.''
He is familiar with two of the most prominent Patriots.
He and Tom Brady played high school football in the San Francisco area and were teammates in the East-West game in college. And he's spoken with strong safety Rodney Harrison several times.
In 2001 in Brady's fifth game as an NFL starter, he threw four interceptions in the fourth quarter in a loss to Denver. O'Neal caught two of them.
``Playing against him, he would always talk to me as the play's going,'' O'Neal said. ``If he threw a ball on my side, he would look at me and wink his eye or something. ... When you've got a high-caliber quarterback like that, he can make anything happen, and I'm glad to be on the same side of the ball with him.''
Playing beside Harrison in the same secondary is pretty exciting, too. O'Neal and Harrison are both hard hitters.
``I spoke to Rodney before he left San Diego before he got here,'' O'Neal said.
Harrison was thinking of going to the Broncos then for the 2003 season. Five years later, they're finally teammates.
``I played with him in the Pro Bowl in '01 and I just love what he brings to the table,'' O'Neal said. ``He's intelligent and he's physical and talented and you would love as a corner to have a guy like that next to you.''
Harrison feels the same.
``The guy can play football. We all know that,'' he said. ``So it's just a matter of picking up our terminology, our adjustments, formations and things like that.''
O'Neal knows it will take some time until he fully understands the Patriots complicated defense. For now, he's ecstatic just to be with his new team.
``This is an elite team and a great defense to be a part of,'' he said. ``I'm just anxious to put this jersey and this helmet on and get out there and be a Patriot.''

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