(Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

Until Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints had been quietly tip-toeing to the top of the NFL.

On Sunday night, they made an outrageous, out-loud statement and offered fair warning that, when the playoffs come around, no team wants to have to go through New Orleans to get to the Super Bowl. The Saints set an NFL record with 40 first downs — 40 — in a 49-17 annihilation of the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterback Drew Brees used the word “efficiency” to describe the absolute destruction the Saints wreaked on Dallas’ defense. The Saints (7-2) set a regular-season franchise record with 625 total yards in the SuperDome, a place in which no team with Super Bowl aspirations wants to play. (New Orleans gained 626 yards in a playoff victory over the Detroit Lions on Jan. 7, 2012.)

“Spreading the ball around, getting everybody involved — these are the days you love to have,” Brees said. “You strive for efficiency both in the run and the pass game. We had that today.”

Brees did his part, completing 34-of-41 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. Along the way, he tied his franchise record with 19 consecutive completions in the first half.

The Saints’ two losses have come on the road to the New England Patriots (on a late drive by Tom Brady) and New York Jets. In the Dome, they’re merciless. They just have to get that home-field postseason advantage.

“I don’t know who we play next, but I know there’s a lot of good teams on our schedule,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “In this league that’s generally the case, but I think exceptionally so this year. We’ve got a lot of good teams, a lot of physical teams left to play. And we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

It does indeed get tougher, with four of their final seven games on the road at Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina. Their final home games are against San Francisco (next Sunday), Carolina and Tampa Bay. If the Saints can stay healthy, keep Brees clicking, play solid defense and continue to have the kind of dominant running game they had last night, the NFC playoffs might just go through New Orleans. On Sunday night, the Saints rushed for 242 yards, their highest single-game total since November 1990. Mark Ingram had a career-best 145, his first 100-yard game.

“We’ve been putting so much emphasis on the run game and we just wanted to come out here on a national stage and prove to everybody that we can play smash-mouth football and run the ball,” Ingram said (via SI.com).

“When we go on the road and in the playoffs, you have to be able to run the ball. Everybody just thinks we’re pass, pass and just run sometimes. But it was just important for us to show the world that we can come out and line up and hit you in the mouth and be efficient running the ball, and make big plays running the ball, and be explosive running the ball. As an offensive unit we wanted to prove that.”