Mexico got off to a slow start due to issues in the midfield and numerous errant passes, complicating matters for manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino and his side at the Estadio Azteca.
Panama capitalized on Mexico's lack of chemistry and pushed forward during the first half, creating a handful of dangerous chances against the home side. Nonetheless, the match remained scoreless once the halftime whistle was blown.
Mexico hit the ground running in the second half and quickly scored through an opportunity from Jimenez, but a check from VAR in the 49th minute correctly ruled it out. Replays showed that Hirving Lozano's cross came from just inches outside of the endline.
However, Lozano suffered a shoulder injury that had him stretchered off the field in the 66th minute. The Napoli player was taken out of the stadium in an ambulance. Both Napoli and Mexico confirmed on Thursday that he had suffered a dislocated shoulder, but did not reveal whether he'd miss time for the Italian club upon his return to Naples.
Mexico's fortunes began to turn after Martino made some crucial substitutions after Lozano's exit. Diego Lainez was brought on in and immediately made impact going forward. In the 69th minute, Julian Araujo and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona were also brought on as additional reinforcements.
El Tri forced Panama further into their own half of the field, and by the 78th minute, Lainez was able to win a penalty for Mexico. Jimenez stepped up to the spot and easily placed the ball past goalkeeper Luis Mejia.
With the victory in hand, Mexico have now closed their recent international window with seven points from three CONCACAF qualifiers. In March, El Tri will wrap up the Octagonal with matches against the United States, Honduras and El Salvador.
A place in Qatar 2022 has yet to be clinched, but it is now much more likely for the North American giants.
"The win is welcome," Martino said after the match. "It brings us closer to a new World Cup."
Recently under pressure after a disappointing run of four points in four previous qualifiers, Martino can rest easier with the 1-0 result that significantly increased Mexico's chances for a World Cup invitation.
"Tata is the head of this group, he is the leader who is going to take us to Qatar," Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa told TUDN after the final whistle.
Canada, who beat El Salvador later on Wednesday, lead the standings by four points over the second-placed U.S., who are level on points with Mexico but ahead on goal difference.
Panama, who will head into March in fourth in the table, will face Honduras, the U.S. and Canada in their final three qualifiers.