Darnold, drafted third overall, completed 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in two-plus quarters of action for the Jets against the Atlanta Falcons.
He received a rousing ovation from the home crowd as he ran onto the field, and he didn't disappoint. Showing unusual poise for a rookie, he completed eight of his first nine attempts. Some of his best throws came on the move as he eluded pressure.
Darnold replaced backup Teddy Bridgewater, who also made a bid for the starting job. In his first extensive action in two years, he completed 7 of 8 passes for 85 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to running back Isaiah Crowell.
It was Bridgewater's first touchdown pass since Aug. 28, 2016, in a preseason game for the Vikings against the Chargers.
Jets coach Todd Bowles could have a tough decision at quarterback. He has two proven veterans, Bridgewater and incumbent Josh McCown, plus the promising Darnold. The organization's intention is to give Darnold every chance to win the job.
He entered the game with 8 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the second quarter. On his second possession, he orchestrated a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, ending with his 14-yard scoring pass to Charles Johnson.
The former USC star demonstrated his improvisational skill, stepping up in the pocket and throwing on the run to Johnson in the corner of the end zone. Darnold was persistent, overcoming a would-be touchdown that was dropped by Johnson and an offensive pass-interference penalty on Johnson that nullified a scoring pass.
Darnold wore a glove on his left (non-throwing) hand in the second half after getting it stepped on at the end of a second-quarter scramble. He cooled off in the second half, generating no points.
Bridgewater also impressed in his Jets debut, leading scoring drives in his only two possessions (a touchdown and field goal) and hitting seven different receivers.
The former Vikings starter fought back from a horrific knee injury on Aug. 30, 2016. He missed the 2016 season and played only a handful of snaps last season in one mop-up appearance. Earlier in the week, Bridgewater said it gives him "chills" when considering his two-year journey back to football.
McCown (1-for-1, 4 yards) started the game but played only one series.